EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 20, 2013

Councilors critical of legal outsourcing

METHUEN — City councilors had plenty of questions last night about Mayor Stephen Zanni’s decision to hire a private law firm in the federal lawsuit filed against the city by police Chief Joseph Solomon, but the mayor only had so many answers.

Led by Councilor Jennifer Kannan, several councilors criticized Zanni’s hiring of the Quincy-based firm Murphy, Hess, Toomey and Lehane to represent the city next Tuesday during a scheduling conference in Boston.

They also questioned why an outside firm is needed when the city presently has two lawyers on staff.

Zanni said the city has not yet paid the firm, but he did not answer when Kannan asked how much next week’s appearance in court will cost. Instead, Zanni suggested the council discuss the topic with him in a closed-door executive session.

In response, Kannan said she may propose opening the city budget to block Zanni from being able to pay the firm.

“Where do you plan on getting the money from to pay outside counsel?” asked Kannan. “I’m not going into executive session. I’m asking a simple question.”

Zanni said his decision to hire the firm is in the best interest of the city. It comes after the City Council voted against reappointing City Solicitor Peter McQuillan to a two-year term in January. The search for McQuillan’s replacement is ongoing.

While McQuillan will keep his job until a successor is named, Zanni has acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the city’s top legal post has made planning for the federal case with Solomon more difficult. “I’m not going to jeopardize the city,” Zanni told councilors last night.

McQuillan also backed Zanni’s decision last night, telling councilors Murphy, Hess, Toomey and Lehane is a “very prominent, experienced, well-respected law firm.”

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