EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 28, 2013

Editorial: Methuen council should scrap solicitor search

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — With its track record of illegal secret meetings, candidates bailing out and a City Council split on whether to proceed at all, Methuen’s search for a new city solicitor has been a disaster from the outset.

Neither of the two candidates remaining for the post — Richard D’Agostino, the former assistant city solicitor in Lawrence, and William Faraci, a former assistant solicitor for Haverhill — brings much to the table. There is little here to inspire confidence among Methuen residents that their interests will be well represented in court or on other legal battlegrounds.

At this point, the best decision the City Council can make is to scrap the current search and start a new one. Indeed, that was the position of three of the nine councilors earlier this month after two of the original four finalists — Kerry Anderson and Robin Stein — unexpectedly withdrew their names from consideration.

Among the two remaining candidates, D’Agostino, 58, of Salem, N.H., is the more problematic. D’Agostino was fired from his Lawrence post in April 2012 after returning from 16 months of medical leave. D’Agostino has sued Lawrence over the firing and is seeking $300,000 in damages.

D’Agostino in his interview with city councilors addressed the “baggage” from his previous job.

“If the baggage is that I stood up to a corrupt mayor ... then I’ll carry that baggage with honor,” D’Agostino said. “My record is impeccable and I’ll stand behind it.”

D’Agostino says he stood up against corruption. But what exactly did he do about it? Did he report it to authorities? Did he bring it to the attention of the media? Did he do anything?

Faraci, 65, of Haverhill, worked as that city’s assistant solicitor from 1977 to 2009. He told councilors the position was eliminated for “purely budgetary” reasons. He has since operated a private law practice.

The search began in January when councilors voted 5-4 against reappointing Solicitor Peter McQuillan to a two-year term. McQuillan has been the city’s lawyer since 2005 and will continue until his replacement is hired.

Methuen advertised the post, which pays between $87,390 and $113,144 per year, and drew 12 applicants by the Jan. 25 deadline. That’s as far as the process got before it began to go awry.

On Feb. 6, the six-member search committee — which consists of councilors Sean Fountain, Jennifer Kannan, Tom Ciulla and Lisa Ferry and local lawyers Arthur Broadhurst and Bryan Chase — held an illegal secret meeting in Broadhurst’s Methuen office. There, the committee interviewed between six and eight candidates and whittled the field down to four finalists.

The meeting violated the state Open Meeting Law as it was not advertised to the public.

McQuillan suggested that there were other secret meetings, a charge Fountain, the council chairman, denies.

In early March, Anderson and Stein withdrew from consideration, leaving D’Agostino and Faraci.

The secret meeting and shortage of finalists prompted three councilors — Ron Marsan, Jeanne Pappalardo and Lisa Ferry — to call for the search to be scrapped and the process restarted. They were voted down 6-3 at the council’s March 12 meeting.

The City Council is slated to choose between D’Agostino and Faraci at its meeting Monday night. At this point, the best choice the council can make is to start the search again and, this time, get it right.