METHUEN — A procedural error by the City Council in 2017 may void the promotions of three superior officers, some city councilors are now saying.
Council Chairman James McCarty, who was not on the council in 2017, said this week that a citizen alerted him to the minutes and video of a March 6, 2017, meeting during which Lt. Greg Gallant was promoted to captain, Sgt. Christian Max was promoted to lieutenant and Patrolman Scott Lever was promoted to sergeant.
The video and minutes both indicate that they were approved with four "yes" votes when, by City Charter, five votes are needed to confirm promotions of police officers.
After the vote, councilors stood and applauded and police Chief Joseph Solomon addressed the council, extolling the virtues of each promoted officer.
McCarty said Friday that the mayor should resubmit the names for confirmation, adding that one of the officers — Gallant — would probably not be confirmed.
"I'm not sure Greg Gallant would have one vote in the affirmative," McCarty said, adding that Gallant is a close ally of the chief's. "If Joe Solomon can't get a vote in the affirmative — on our recent 'no-confidence' vote — I don't think Greg Gallant will, either. If there's nobody who has confidence in Solomon being the chief, I don't think anyone has confidence in Greg Gallant being captain."
Chief Solomon said he was unaware of the council's recent discussion of the 2017 vote, saying only that the mayor is the appointing authority.
The mayor at the time was Stephen Zanni.
The current mayor, Neil Perry, said he would be consulting with the city's labor counsel on what steps to take going forward.
Gallant could not be reached for comment.
McCarty said he thinks the other two promotions, if they come back before the council, would most likely pass.
"I would vote for Max and Lever," he said.
The dispute is just the latest in a long-running battle between the current City Council, Solomon and some of the superior officers in the department.
While Solomon has claimed in the past that the council is out to get him, councilors say Solomon is grossly overpaid and that the police Superior Officers' Union contract should never have been approved by the same 2017 City Council, because it ended up giving superior officers salaries over $400,000 a year.
The contract dispute is currently in arbitration. An arbitrator had been scheduled to hear arguments from both the city and the union earlier this year. Perry, with approval of the arbitrator, brokered a deal with the union that both sides felt was fair but the City Council rejected it, saying the superior officers would still be getting huge salaries they didn't deserve.
City Councilor Mike Simard, who is chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said his committee would investigate what happened in the 2017 meeting.
"We are trying to do some fact-finding and see what our options are," Simard said. "When you revert back to that 2017 council meeting, so many mistakes were made and the citizens and taxpayers are left holding the bag."
Meanwhile, he said, "the person orchestrating this — Joe Solomon — is unscathed. It's such an incestuous mess. All these problems surround the management of the police department and the superior officers' union."
He blamed then-Mayor Zanni adding, "it was just another blunder by the 2017 City Council."
It was that council, at the urging of Zanni, that approved the superior officers' contract with its exorbitant raises.
Also that year, Solomon's contract was signed in February 2017 and confirmed by the same City Council. If his contract were in place, it would result in him getting a salary of more than $350,000. He is currently being paid about $25,000 a month, or close to $300,000, as the dispute with the superior officers' union contract continues.
Solomon's contract is linked to the earnings of the superior officers.
City Councilor D.J. Beauregard said the 2017 City Council acted "unlawfully and outside its official capacity" by confirming the three officers with just four votes when the City Charter clearly spells out that a majority of the full council — five votes — is needed to confirm appointments.
He called them a "rogue" City Council operating with a "clear pattern of malfeasance and influence peddling."
"These rogue councilors made a habit of routinely breaking the law in 2017," he said. "And we have a responsibility to call them out."
He added that due to the "procedural defects" of the March 2017 meeting, he thinks the promotions of the three officers "never actually happened."
According to the minutes and the recording, four councilors voted in favor of the three appointments and four abstained because they had conflicts of interest with people in the department.
One of the councilors was not in attendance.
When the council realized they didn't have the requisite number of votes, they conferred with City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino, who clearly stated that five votes were needed to approve the appointments.
The council then took a brief recess, pointing the camera away from the dais. However, the audio remained turned on and the council, Zanni and D'Agostino could be heard deliberating about how to proceed.
When the camera was turned back onto the panel, one of the councilors voted to reconsider his "yes" vote so they could take another vote. That passed 4-3 as Councilor Sean Fountain did not vote.
Councilors considered the 4-3 vote as approval because a majority of those present voted in favor of the promotions. They then stood up and applauded.
D'Agostino said this week he told the council at the time that they needed five votes, but they ignored him.
"It was a 4-4 vote, which was not even a tie because four of the councilors are ineligible to vote," he said. "The charter says, if you only get four votes, it fails. The charter requires five of the full council to confirm."
During the sidebar, Zanni said, "who's going to appeal," D'Agostino noted, adding that he replied, "if you can get away with it."
He said there was additional conversation and that Zanni was arguing with him about how to proceed.
The reconsideration and revote did nothing to change the outcome, which is that the confirmation vote failed, D'Agostino said.