Click HERE to read city Solicitor Peter McQuillan's memo.
METHUEN — The city attorney wants to appeal a judge's recent ruling in favor of police Chief Joseph Solomon, but his recommendation faces opposition from city councilors.
"Move forward" was a common refrain among councilors interviewed last week. Several said they would not support an appeal if it came up for a vote. Others said they want the city to reach a settlement with Solomon and put an end to years of legal wrangling.
The chief has two other lawsuits pending with the city: a Civil Service Commission appeal of its decision to suspend him for one year and a federal suit to ensure he keeps his job from which he was fired in 2008.
"We've got to put it to bed," said Councilor Michael Condon. "The more you prolong it, the more the taxpayers pay and the more the attorneys make. It's time to move forward and bring fresh air into Methuen. The air is just too stale. It's time to just move on."
In a March 12 written decision, Judge Thomas Murtagh awarded Solomon $49,000 in lost wages and granted him a $31,000 raise — boosting his annual pay to about $161,000.
The decision came after Solomon filed a civil lawsuit after city councilors voted in 2007 to slash his pay by more than $25,000 once his contract had lapsed.
Former Mayor William Manzi fired Solomon in May 2008. Solomon returned as chief in October 2010, after the state's Civil Service Commission reduced his termination to a year suspension. Per the civil service decision, Solomon was paid $199,000 when he returned to work. But he believed he was owed additional money and filed the civil suit.
The city has until mid-April to appeal Murtagh's decision. In a confidential memo to councilors dated March 16, city Solicitor Peter McQuillan recommended that the city appeal the judgement, which he wrote "contains serious legal inconsistencies."
But Councilors Sean Fountain, Tom Ciulla and Jeanne Pappalardo all said last week they will not support an appeal if it comes before the council for a vote.
"How many times are we going to lose on this case before we get the hint?" asked Fountain. "If it's going to cost any more money I wouldn't support it. The city needs to move forward."
"I'm definitely against seeing this appealed," said Ciulla. "This is crazy. It's just going to cost us so much more money. The guy won. Enough is enough."
Other councilors said they were undecided.
"I really don't know what our legal course of action should be," said Councilor Ron Marsan. "I wish we could just resolve our lawsuits so our city can move forward. Does it mean appealing this? I don't know. I need to know what grounds he wants to appeal it on."
Councilor Lisa Ferry said she was "still doing my research."
Both Pappalardo and Councilor Jamie Atkinson said they would support a potential settlement between the city and Solomon on all three cases.
"The ultimate goal is to put this behind us because all it does is hurt the city," said Atkinson. "This is taking up time that should be spent on other issues like health care and the budget."
"I want to put this to rest once and for all," said Pappalardo. "We haven't won anything yet. Let's cut our losses. Let's settle it. Let's end it."
Mayor Stephen Zanni met with McQuillan last week to discuss the decision and whether to appeal it. The mayor is expected to meet with Solomon early this week.
Zanni said the council will ultimately decide to appeal or not. Zanni said he will present several options to the chief before giving the council a recommendation on how to proceed, but would not comment specifically if he intended to discuss a settlement.
"I'm looking to end this," said Zanni. "But I want to do what's best for the city. If the agreements aren't resolved, then we'll move the other way.
"That's what I'm looking to do — put some options in place, let him make a decision and then we move on, whether it be through the court process or the other."
Several councilors said it remains unclear whether the decision to appeal is up to the council or the mayor. McQuillan, who works for the council, would not comment last week when a reporter asked him to clarify whose responsibility it was.
Fountain said the mayor is telling councilors it's their decision to make, but the solicitor is telling them it's the mayor's call.
"It's like playing 'Hot Potato' as a kid — that's what they are doing with this case," Fountain said. "They are scared to leave it in their hands because they are afraid of the heat."
Fountain called the contradictions between McQuillan and Zanni over who ultimately decides to appeal "ridiculous."
"No one's stepping up to the plate, but the council has no problem taking this on and addressing it," Fountain said.
If a vote is taken by the council, Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan said she will recuse herself to prevent appearance of a conflict of interest. Kannan's sister is a partner with the law firm representing Solomon in the recently decided case.
Councilor Joyce Campagnone could not be reached for comment.
• • •
Follow Brian Messenger on Twitter under the screen name Brian_Messenger. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.