METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni believes Jennifer Kannan and other city councilors “hurt the city” when they voted to drastically cut funding for the municipal Health Division.
Zanni and Kannan will face off in the Nov. 5 mayoral election. Kannan was one of five councilors who voted June 25 to cut former Methuen health director Brian LaGrasse’s $73,149 salary to $1, effectively eliminating the position.
LaGrasse has since hired a lawyer and is considering filing suit against the city for defamation, wages and wrongful discharge. The majority of city councilors are now remaining tight-lipped about the matter.
Councilors also voted unanimously in June to reduce public health nurse Amy Ewing’s work week from 35 to 20 hours, which saved $25,000. As a result of the cuts, state public health officials in August pulled the plug on the $325,000 regional grant serving Methuen, Haverhill and Lawrence. The loss of the grant cost the cities $214,000.
In a recent interview with The Eagle-Tribune, Zanni said the council was wrong to cut funding for both positions.
“I fought to keep the public health director and nurse,” said Zanni. “My opponent voted to terminate one and reduce the hours of the other. It wasn’t a good move. It really hurt the city.”
Zanni said the state’s decision to pull back the grant ended a project that ultimately could have led to the regionalization of area health departments. It may also hurt the city’s ability to land future grants, he said.
“Besides losing the (health director) position, now we lost the grant,” said Zanni. “I think that hurt us as well.”
Kannan said she stands by her votes to cut Health Division funding, but deferred comment to the city attorney when a reporter asked about LaGrasse’s potential lawsuit and demand for $145,000 in damages.
“I’d be more comfortable just letting the two attorneys discuss it,” said Kannan.