EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 28, 2013

Councilor: Like a 'fox in the hen house'

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — City Solicitor Peter McQuillan reviewed and redacted his own cell phone and email records before releasing them in response to a public records request by The Eagle-Tribune.

Mayor Stephen Zanni was aware that McQuillan, who is an employee of the City Council, was reviewing his own records and said he did not see a conflict of interest.

“He wasn’t on his own. This was done with the assistant city solicitor by his side the whole time,” Zanni said Wednesday.

The Eagle-Tribune on April 1 requested McQuillan’s cell phone, text message and email records between the dates of Jan. 1 and April 1.

City Council Chairman Sean Fountain thinks the records should not have been redacted.

“If there’s a records request, I think we should just furnish the records,” Fountain said. “Do I think people should be reviewing them? No I don’t. If it’s a city phone, it’s a city phone.”

Councilor Thomas Ciulla at a City Council meeting April 16 called it “fox in the hen house.”

“Don’t you think it’s a conflict the city solicitor is reviewing his emails and his text messages?” Ciulla said then. Zanni said he would not discuss a conflict of interest, and said assistant city solicitor Anne Randazzo was reviewing the documents with McQuillan.

During the search for a new city solicitor, triggered Jan. 7 after the City Council voted against reappointing him, McQuillan has declined to give legal opinions to the council on its search, citing the state conflict-of-interest law that bars him from participating in matters in which he has a financial interest, and has forwarded council questions to the attorney general’s office.

McQuillan did not return a phone message last Wednesday afternoon asking whether he sought the attorney general’s opinion on conflict of interest in reviewing public records requests for his documents.

Last week, Zanni delivered to The Eagle-Tribune records that included a list of phone numbers McQuillan sent text messages to and received them from, a list of phone numbers he called and received calls from and a stack emails. Numerous phone numbers were blacked out on the lists of both text messages and phone calls.

Zanni said those numbers were redacted by McQuillan, with Randazzo present, because they were personal in nature. The Eagle-Tribune is disputing with the city whether certain phone numbers and text messages on a municipal cell phone are exempt from disclosure under the Massachusetts public records law.

A review of that list of phone numbers by The Eagle-Tribune uncovered the cell phone number of Methuen attorney Anthony Copani, a professional reference for Richard D’Agostino. Every appearance of Copani’s number was redacted. City officials said last week that Copani conducts city business and can sometimes be found at City Hall.

Last month, McQuillan sent a text message to D’Agostino during D’Agostino’s interview with the City Council, prompting Ciulla to call for an investigation into potential meddling into the hiring process.

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