By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — With a date in federal court looming, Mayor Stephen Zanni said he is preparing a final back pay settlement proposal for police Chief Joseph Solomon.
Negotiations between the mayor and chief began in April but have failed to produce an agreement. If no deal is reached in the coming weeks, the sides will proceed Feb. 27 with a scheduling conference in federal court.
“I’ll give him a final proposal in the next few weeks,” Zanni told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday. “He’ll have a chance to respond to that before February. If he’s not agreeable, we’ll go from there.”
Zanni was not present Thursday for a roughly 90-minute executive session with the City Council and City Solicitor Peter McQuillan. The topic of the closed-door session was the ongoing legal battle between the city and Solomon and the related settlement talks, but councilors who returned phone calls yesterday offered no specifics on what was discussed.
“It was an education for us all,” said Councilor Tom Ciulla. “I think it should have been done a long time ago.”
The lawsuits between the chief and city stem from Solomon’s firing in 2008. The City Council also cut his $158,295 salary by $25,610 in 2007. Solomon returned as chief in 2010, after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension. The city’s appeal of that decision was rejected by a judge in July.
The chief filed a federal suit in May 2011, accusing former Mayor William Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him. The city has filed counterclaims against Solomon to recoup nearly $200,000 it repaid to the federal government several years ago. The city claims the chief did not fulfill contractual duties in overseeing federal grants.
Solomon also filed suit against the city shortly after his pay was cut and has since been awarded $60,479 in back pay. The city has appealed the award.
Zanni’s most recent settlement offer came in late October. Though both sides have repeatedly refused to disclose the cost associated with a deal, Solomon has described the mayor’s last proposal as “too low, like not even in the ballpark.”
Zanni said Solomon never formally responded to his last offer.
“I’m going to reach out one more time,” said Zanni. “I’m looking at what’s best for the city here.”
“I look forward to seeing what he has to say,” Solomon said yesterday.
Also present at the executive session was Assistant Solicitor Anne Randazzo. Two councilors were not in attendance: Michael Condon and Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan, who has recused herself with matters involving the Solomon cases to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest. Kannan’s sister is a partner with a law firm representing Solomon.
Several councilors who attended the meeting said they want to see the cases settled before the Feb. 27 scheduling conference.
“I think it’s important for everyone to be on board with the goal,” said Councilor Lisa Ferry. “And the goal is to settle this once and for all.”
Others cautioned that the council only has the authority to approve or disapprove a settlement agreement.
“We can ask, recommend or advise, but we’re not the authority to come to an agreement,” said Councilor Joyce Campagnone. “That’s the mayor’s doing.”
“It’s an executive decision,” added Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo. “I believe that both parties need to work together in order to come to a fair agreement.”