EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 29, 2013

Solicitor finalist calls for McQuillan investigation

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — Solicitor finalist Richard D’Agostino’s job interview with the City Council began in typical fashion Tuesday night. But about halfway through the 45-minute session, D’Agostino received an unexpected text message from the man he hopes to replace.

In the text, City Solicitor Peter McQuillan accused D’Agostino of lying to councilors. D’Agostino said he didn’t read the message until after he left City Hall. But he believes it is proof McQuillan is tampering with the search for his replacement from the sidelines.

“I think it’s unprofessional conduct and it’s also unethical conduct as a municipal employee,” said D’Agostino, who is one of two finalists for the solicitor job. “You want to say the process is tainted? Boy, there’s a lot of taint here. He’s injected himself into the process.”

McQuillan yesterday confirmed that he sent the text message to D’Agostino during the interview, admitting too that it was impulsive. He flatly denied D’Agostino’s charge that he’s working to influence the selection of his successor.

“That absolutely astounds me,” said McQuillan. “That is an absolute, outright lie. I would never do that to anyone.”

McQuillan’s comments didn’t stop D’Agostino yesterday from calling for a city investigation into his conduct. D’Agostino also said he will file a complaint against McQuillan with the state’s Board Bar of Overseers, which investigates complaints against lawyers.

D’Agostino’s interview with councilors lasted from roughly 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. During the interview, D’Agostino was asked by City Councilor Jamie Atkinson about a last-minute revocation of one his work references, Lawrence District Court Clerk Andrew Gradzewicz.

“This is news to me,” D’Agostino told the council.

McQuillan, who was watching a live Internet stream of the interviews from his home, sent a text message from his work cell phone to D’Agostino at 6:53 p.m. “That’s a lie he tried to contact Gradzewicz today!!!!” wrote McQuillan.

When asked yesterday why he texted D’Agostino during the interview, McQuillan said: “I was calling him on what I believe to be a misstatement he made to the City Council.”

But given the wording of the text, D’Agostino said the message was likely intended for a city councilor instead of himself.

“Whether it was to me or to a councilor, there’s no good answer to this text message,” said D’Agostino. “The conduct is reprehensible.

“Let’s buy his explanation that he sent that to me. While I was sitting there, being publicly interviewed, he sought to insert himself? ... To what, distract me? Derail me? Fluster me? Or chide me? What was his business to say what I was saying was untrue? And by the way, how would he know unless he spoke to Gradzewicz?”

D’Agostino said he still hasn’t received an explanation from Gradzewicz about why he rescinded his reference. A brief letter sent to councilors Monday gave no reason for the reversal.

“I sensed at the time he was intimidated into doing it, that he was coerced into doing it,” said D’Agostino. “Because I know for a fact that other people who wrote references were contacted by Mr. McQuillan. And I’m not going to reveal names.”

D’Agostino said he believes McQuillan also contacted his colleagues in an effort to convince him to withdraw his application.

“That is not true,” said McQuillan. “I did not reach out to them at all. I can’t believe he is taking it to that extreme. Shame on him.”

McQuillan also said yesterday that he did not text any councilors during the interview. He said his lone text to D’Agostino that night was the extent of his involvement with the candidates vying to replace him.

D’Agostino did not reply to McQuillan’s text until 8:24 p.m. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he wrote. McQuillan did not respond.