By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The city solicitor search committee will meet in a closed-door executive session Tuesday night before releasing the names of four finalists for Methuen’s top legal job.
The finalists will then be interviewed in public session by the full City Council. Those interviews could happen as soon as the end of next week, said Council Chairman Sean Fountain, who is also chairman of the six-member search committee.
The search committee was scheduled to meet in executive session tonight. But Fountain rescheduled the meeting last night, after learning city councilors Jennifer Kannan and Lisa Ferry could not attend.
Fountain said the search committee will release the names of the four finalists after meeting Tuesday night in executive session. He said the meeting will be closed to the public so the committee can finalize its selection of the four finalists.
Fountain told The Eagle-Tribune on Feb. 11 that four finalists had already been chosen. The finalists were picked Feb. 6 during a secret meeting attended by five of six search committee members: Councilors Fountain, Kannan and Ferry; and local lawyers Arthur Broadhurst and Bryan Chase. The meeting was held at Broadhurst’s Methuen law office. Absent from the meeting was Councilor Tom Ciulla.
But yesterday, Fountain said the search committee has yet to officially vote on the four finalists. That vote will come Tuesday, he said.
“We were down to four, but it depends on Ciulla’s vote,” said Fountain. “We want to give him the courtesy of having his input.”
Fountain initially planned to hold finalist interviews in executive session and release only two names to the public. But he reversed course Feb. 13, one day after The Eagle-Tribune reported such closed-door interviews constituted a violation of the Open Meeting Law.
After seeking clarification from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, Fountain said he was told that once finalists are selected, the search committee can no longer legally interview job applicants in closed-door executive sessions.
The search for a new city solicitor was triggered Jan. 7 when the City Council voted 5-4 against reappointing City Solicitor Peter McQuillan to a two-year term.
Twelve people applied for the job. The search committee met for the first time Jan. 31 at City Hall. A notice for the meeting was posted by the City Clerk’s office three days earlier.
A public notice for the second search committee meeting Feb. 6 was never posted. The Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts requires that meetings of public bodies — including City Council subcommittees — be publicized 48 hours in advance.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Fountain said he committed “a rookie mistake” when he failed to post a notice for the Feb. 6 meeting.
Last week, Fountain said he didn’t believe he was required to post a notice of the meeting because only three members of the City Council were expected to be in attendance.
Fountain has said the search committee selected finalists through interviews and reference and background checks.