By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The City Council will meet behind closed doors tonight to discuss the city’s ongoing legal battle and related settlement negotiations with police Chief Joseph Solomon.
An executive session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. inside City Solicitor Peter McQuillan’s office “for the purposes of discussing negotiations regarding litigation,” according to a meeting agenda.
The meeting was called by councilors Sean Fountain, Tom Ciulla and Jamie Atkinson to discuss Solomon’s federal suit against the city, a second case in which the city filed an appeal in mid November, and settlement talks between the chief and Mayor Stephen Zanni.
The council is not expected to reconvene in open session after the meeting.
Several rounds of settlement talks between Solomon and Zanni have thus far failed to produce an agreement. If no deal is reached in the coming weeks, the sides will proceed Feb. 27 with a scheduling conference in federal court.
“It’s a very complex case,” said Fountain. “My personal opinion is the best thing for the city is to come to an agreement with the chief and move forward. We don’t need to see this thing linger any longer. ... I want to see this case settled.”
Both sides have repeatedly refused to disclose the cost associated with the settlement offers. Several city councilors also said they’ve yet to be briefed on the potential cost of settling with the chief.
“I’d be open to a settlement, but it has to be as beneficial for the city as it is for the chief,” said Atkinson. “I don’t see how we could come to a settlement if we don’t know what the numbers are.”
In a recent interview with The Eagle-Tribune, Solomon described Zanni’s last settlement offer, which came in late October, as “too low, like not even in the ballpark.” Solomon also said the city owes him $200,000 — a combination of back pay and interest he claims is coming to him regardless of the outcome of his federal lawsuit or the settlement negotiations.
“I liked seeing the fact that some numbers were thrown out there,” said Fountain. “I think it’s going to open up some peoples’ eyes.”
The chief filed his federal suit in May 2011, accusing former Mayor William Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him in May 2008. Solomon returned as chief in 2010, after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension. The city’s appeal of the decision was rejected by a judge in July.