By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni is refusing to identify the private lawyers who advised him about the city charter and his plan to privatize the municipal Information Technology department.
Zanni told councilors at a Nov. 5 meeting that he spoke to two attorneys who advised him a public hearing was required before the council voted on his IT reorganization plan. That opinion has since been affirmed by City Solicitor Peter McQuillan.
A day after the meeting, Councilor Joyce Campagnone sent a memo to the mayor asking him for the names of the lawyers.
“What were their findings and were they paid?” wrote Campagnone.
The memo led to a heated exchange Nov. 19 in which Campagnone asked the mayor if he had a response.
“Those are my attorneys that I funded out of my own money that I got my own opinion on,” said Zanni.
“Can they send us ...” asked Campagnone. “No,” interrupted the mayor. “You have an opinion that you voted on.”
Zanni also declined to identify the two lawyers during a recent interview with The Eagle-Tribune.
“I don’t want to get into that,” said Zanni. “I won’t divulge who they are. I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Zanni said no taxpayer money was spent to consult with the lawyers. He referred to Campagnone’s questions as “way off base.”
“She was asking something personal,” said Zanni. “This is something I did on my own. My interpretation of the charter was correct and I wanted to verify that.”
It was initially believed that a 7-2 council vote on Nov. 5 killed the mayor’s proposed privatization of the four-employee municipal IT department. But Zanni contended a section of the city charter titled “Reorganization Plans by Mayor” required that a public hearing be held before the vote. That belief was affirmed 10 days later in a confidential memo written by McQuillan.
Campagnone said Zanni’s response at the Nov. 19 meeting was “uncalled for and unprofessional.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get the answer,” said Campagnone. “I thought they were valid questions. I thought he was very rude. I’m surprised. For him to rebut like that was uncalled for.
“I wanted to know who the attorneys were and if we paid them. And also, if they gave a public ruling, I would like to see it. It’s no secret. He made a statement about their opinion. I think we have a right to see it.”
Campagnone questioned why Zanni would need an outside lawyer when the city employs McQuillan and Assistant Solicitor Anne Randazzo.
“We have all these attorneys employed by the city, why would you go elsewhere?” said Campagnone. “Just to get what you want to hear.”