EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 8, 2013

Methuen health director fires back

LaGrasse says Fountain has 'bad information' about regional grant

METHUEN — With a lawyer by his side, former health director Brian LaGrasse said he was the victim of a political attack that cost him his job and the cities of Methuen, Lawrence and Haverhill a $325,000 state grant.

LaGrasse said he hired a lawyer last week after City Council Chairman Sean Fountain told The Eagle-Tribune there were a number of questions surrounding the regional grant in which LaGrasse served as administrator.

LaGrasse said Fountain’s suggestion that there were improprieties with the grant are “clearly baseless.”

“It’s wrong,” said LaGrasse. “He’s got bad information.”

The Methuen City Council voted in June to cut LaGrasse’s $73,149 salary to $1, effectively eliminating the position of health director. As a result, state public health officials in August pulled the plug on the $325,000 regional grant.

LaGrasse had served as administrator for the four-year grant, which was awarded in 2012 to help financially strapped health departments in Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill pay for a full-time public health nurse and part-time environmental health inspector. The decision to cease grant funding after this year means the three cities will lose out on $214,000.

LaGrasse told The Eagle-Tribune that his position was eliminated over politics, not for personal reasons. But he would not elaborate on what he believes motivated city councilors to reduce his salary to $1.

“It definitely wasn’t personal,” said LaGrasse. “It was political.”

Lagrasse said he hired lawyer Elise Hoffman of Andover two days after Fountain’s comments were published in last Sunday’s Eagle-Tribune. Though her client is “not anywhere close to filing suit at this point,” Hoffman said she is exploring whether LaGrasse was wrongfully discharged from his job and whether his employment contract was breached.

Hoffman said Fountain’s recent comments about LaGrasse and the grant are also “cause for concern.”

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