METHUEN — City Council Chairman John Cronin Jr. last night withdrew a proposal to add a $100,000 police captain position to the city payroll. Mayor William Manzi said he will begin demoting police officers today as a result.
Last night's developments were the latest in a chain of events that began Friday when Joseph Solomon returned as police chief after a protracted battle to reclaim his position. Solomon's return forced interim chief, Katherine Lavigne, back to the rank of captain.
To prevent Lavigne's "rollback" from causing a domino effect of demotions and, ultimately, one layoff, Manzi asked city councilors to approve spending $100,199 to create a new captain's position. That would have increased the number of captains from three to four.
The rollbacks and the layoff will breach union agreements that Manzi negotiated — and city councilors approved — earlier this year to save money. As part of the agreements, police officers took pay cuts to prevent demotions and layoffs.
Cronin withdrew Manzi's proposal from the agenda for last night's City Council meeting, so councilors did not get a chance to act on funding for the extra captain. Asked why he withdrew it, Cronin referred to a memorandum Manzi sent to councilors yesterday.
The memo said the superior officers union meets tomorrow to discuss the matter. Manzi said he will begin the rollbacks this morning, and affected officers are entitled to civil service hearings.
The president of the patrol officers union, Larry May, said he plans to speak to his union's legal counsel.
The Police Department once had four captains and a deputy chief, but when Deputy Chief Joseph Alaimo and Capt. Ed Guy retired, their jobs were left vacant.
With the economy sputtering and budget cuts looming, taxpayers aren't eager to add to payrolls these days.
"I think it's ridiculous," resident and business owner John Cavaretta told a reporter. "It's costing us money."
Cavaretta said the Police Department is top-heavy and needs more officers on the street.
"For one captain you can almost hire two cops," he said.
Cavaretta said Solomon was accused of misusing money, but he said funding another captain position also is misuse of money.
"If anybody approves this in the future, they should be suspended or fired," he told the council and the mayor during the public participation portion of the City Council meeting.
Manzi placed Solomon on leave three years ago and eventually fired him, partly for mismanaging grant money and spending taxpayers' money to buy marine equipment from his sister and brother-in-law. The state Civil Service Commission determined Solomon didn't deserve to be fired and ordered him back to work Friday.
Solomon attended last night's meeting, along with police Capt. Thomas Fram, and said he would have deferred to Manzi if the prospect of adding a captain was discussed.
Dispatchers union President Maria Lavigne reminded the politicians that her union is not at full staff.