EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 12, 2013

Search for city solicitor is delayed

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The search for a new solicitor took another unexpected turn Wednesday night when City Councilor Joyce Campagnone abruptly pulled back an agenda item seeking to restart the hiring process for Methuen’s top lawyer.

Campagnone had proposed a request to reconsider a June 6 vote against reopening the hiring process, which stalled in the spring. But Campagnone scrapped her plan just one minute into Wednesday night’s meeting by removing her proposal from the agenda, a move the majority of the council approved.

After reconsidering her motion to reconsider, Campagnone went on to tell council Chairman Sean Fountain that she still supports reopening the solicitor search. The position has been vacant since May 31.

“I think it’s a very important position,” said Campagnone. “We really do need someone on board full-time to help with the situations that arise.”

After the meeting, Campagnone said she wants a “fresh start” and will resubmit a resolution at the council’s Aug. 6 meeting seeking the reformation of a solicitor search committee.

“I still want to go forward,” said Campagnone. “I still believe in it. The chairman is going to pick the committee.”

A resolution to restart the hiring process was originally put forth June 6 by councilors Jamie Atkinson and Ron Marsan. In their resolution, Atkinson and Marsan sought to start the solicitor hiring process over by forming a new search committee and establishing specific “search guidelines and parameters” as well as a detailed step-by-step timeline.

Only Atkinson, Marsan and Jeanne Pappalardo voted to restart the search June 6. The three councilors on Wednesday were also the lone opponents to Campagnone’s motion to pull the reconsideration request from the agenda.

Earlier this week, Atkinson told The Eagle-Tribune that some councilors want to “pass the buck” and put off the search until after the municipal election in November. Yesterday, he maintained that politics are behind the process.

“I know (Campagnone) said she wanted to start fresh, but I thought what we had was fresh,” said Atkinson. “There was no reason to take it off the agenda.”

The solicitor hiring process stalled April 1 following a series of controversies and has yet to pick up again. That night, a motion to appoint finalist Richard D’Agostino to a two-year term as solicitor was defeated 5 to 4.

In May, the council voted to hire private municipal law firm Kopelman and Paige to assume the duties of solicitor. Firm representatives and Mayor Stephen Zanni finalized a service contract last week.

McQuillan retained his job as Methuen’s top lawyer until June 30, though he worked his last day May 31. His departure ended months of controversy that began Jan. 7, when councilors voted against reappointing him to a two-year term.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Fountain told a reporter he will reform the solicitor search committee once he is contacted by councilors who are interested in serving on the body. Earlier this week, Fountain said he would prefer to give Kopelman and Paige a chance before hiring a new solicitor.

“My personal opinion is the firm is in there right now,” said Fountain. “Let the firm come in, see how they operate and see if there’s a savings for the city.”