By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — City Solicitor Peter McQuillan spoke with one professional reference for a solicitor candidate at least three times in the days and hours preceding the City Council interview of the two finalist candidates, according to cell phone records obtained by The Eagle-Tribune, raising questions about whether he interfered in the selection process for his successor.
McQuillan used his municipal cell phone to speak with Methuen attorney Anthony Copani, who was a reference for Richard D’Agostino, one of the two solicitor finalists, on Copani’s cell phone at least six times in March, city records show. Officials yesterday said that Copani conducts business with the city, however, and is often seen in City Hall.
McQuillan, who reviewed and redacted his own phone and email records in response to a public records request by The Eagle-Tribune with the assistant city solicitor present, blacked out the phone numbers in the line items listing Copani’s number. Copani’s cell phone number was discernible through the blackout in multiple instances.
“I’m not going to comment at all,” McQuillan said Wednesday when asked about the timing and nature of the phone calls.
Copani, when reached on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon, also said he could not comment.
“I don’t think I want to interfere by giving statements to the media,” Copani said. “I want to give courtesy to whoever is conducting the investigation, if there is an investigation.”
City Council Chairman Sean Fountain said he wanted to withhold comment, but said that Copani “does a ton of business with the city.”
“I’m not going to comment on the record because I haven’t seen (the phone records),” he said. “Councilor (Thomas) Ciulla has been asking for these. But I have seen attorney Copani in City Hall, and he does business and represents a lot of people in different aspects of the city. I’ve even seen attorney Copani going in and out of Peter’s office.”
D’Agostino, who had initiated a complaint with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers over McQuillan sending him a text message during his interview with the City Council on March 26, said he now intends to file a complaint with the state Ethics Commission.
“My comment on the whole thing is the conduct is reprehensible and unconscionable,” D’Agostino said. “If he had any honor he’d resign immediately. It’s obvious and apparent, and it was obvious and apparent from the text message during the interview, that he’s used his position to access confidential information in order to derail the process so he could enrich himself by collecting his paycheck and retirement benefits.”
McQuillan’s records show that he sent text messages to D’Agostino and Councilors Ron Marsan and Jamie Atkinson during the roughly 86-minute meeting that began at 6:30 p.m. on March 26.
Ciulla has called for a special meeting, which by charter requires either the chairman or three councilors, to begin the process of removing McQuillan from office. He wrote to other councilors on April 20 requesting an investigation into McQuillan’s behavior during the search for a new solicitor.
William Faraci, the Haverhill attorney who was the other finalist in the solicitor search, declined to comment yesterday.
According to the phone records, McQuillan called Copani’s cell phone at 11:57 a.m. on March 22, 10 days after D’Agostino turned in his list of references. The call lasted two minutes.
McQuillan called Copani again at 1:49 p.m. on March 25, the day before the City Council interviewed D’Agostino and Faraci. The call lasted six minutes.
Copani called McQuillan at 5:15 p.m. March 26, an hour and 15 minutes before the start of the City Council interview. The call lasted six minutes.
The records, which cover Jan. 1 to April 1, also show McQuillan speaking with Copani three times on March 7 – McQuillan called first, and Copani called twice shortly afterward – and once when Copani called on Jan. 8, the day after the council’s vote not to reappoint him.
Another of D’Agostino’s references, Andrew Gradzewicz, withdrew his reference days before the interview. During the interview, McQuillan, who watched a live feed of the meeting at home, sent a text message to D’Agostino after D’Agostino told councilors he did not know that Gradzewicz had withdrawn his reference.
“That’s a lie he tried to contact Gradzewicz today!!!!” McQuillan wrote in his text message at 6:53 p.m. on March 26.
D’Agostino responded at 8:24 p.m., “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Councilors were concerned that McQuillan had contacted Gradzewicz and urged him to pull his reference for D’Agostino. A phone number for Gradzewicz has not been identified yet in McQuillan’s municipal cell phone records.
According to McQuillan’s text message records, he sent text messages to councilors Atkinson and Marsan during that interview as well. Neither councilor replied that evening, but both councilors called McQuillan immediately after the March 26 meeting, according to the records.
The City Council voted 5-4 on Jan. 7 not to reappoint McQuillan as city solicitor, a position he has held since 2005, for another two-year term. According to the city charter, McQuillan will stay in his $113,144-per-year job until his successor is appointed. The search for a new solicitor began in January ended on April 1 when councilors voted 5-4 against appointing D’Agostino, citing a flawed search process.
They did not vote on Faraci. The council will post the position again and restart the process.
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