Council chair: Solomon email shows 'self-dealing'

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photo. Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon has been named to PAARI's leadership council.

METHUEN — City councilors are raising questions about a newly released email from police Chief Joseph Solomon to Patrolmen's Union President David Gardner in September 2017, in which Solomon suggested changes to the patrolmen's contract that also benefited him.

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, Solomon wrote an email to Gardner saying, "Please read and send to attorney. Highlighted areas are additions or changes. I changed the wording on base pay calculations (per superiors wording) and some other wording that the MOU (memorandum of understanding) had. Let me know your thoughts tomorrow."

Attached to the email was the patrolman's contract, with the highlighted changes suggested by Solomon. 

The result was that the changes boosted the base salary not only of patrolmen, but also the salaries of the superior officers and the police chief himself.

Under state law, changes made in the patrolmen's contract benefit police chiefs' and superior officers' salaries.

City Council Chairman James McCarty said the chief is eligible for a salary that is 2.6 times the highest paid patrolman. 

Superior officers also benefit, he said, as sergeants get 116% of the highest paid patrolmen, lieutenants get 132% of the highest paid patrolman, and captains also get a bump based on the highest paid patrolman's salary.

McCarty, along with City Councilor Steve Saba, say the email shows that while Solomon was negotiating for the patrolmen, he was also bumping up his own salary, as well as the salaries of the superior officers.

"He's supposed to represent the city in negotiations with the patrolmen's union, but instead he's giving patrolmen language to help him and the superiors' contract. He essentially writes the contract. Whatever calculated cost increase he inserted himself gets multiplied by 2.6 times to (boost) his pay. Any increase he gives a patrolman, he gets 2.6 times that," he said.

"That's self-dealing," he continued. "If you are in a corporation, it's an ethical violation when you do what he did. Given the amount of modifications done, and when they were done, after impact-bargaining was over — the timing and the amount of modification and addition is alarming and it's probably self-dealing." 

Saba agreed, saying the chief "was supposed to be negotiating for the city, but when you read that email, it gives a totally different impression."

"Why is he calling the patrolmen and saying to them, 'Take this language in the contract,' while at the same time he was negotiating on behalf of the city?" he said. "There's something wrong with that picture."

Solomon: 'Nobody will give me the email'

The changes to the patrolmen's contract, based on Solomon's email, were implemented after impact-bargaining ended Aug. 31, McCarty said. He pointed to the date of Solomon's email to the union president:  Sept. 6, 2017. That was about a week after negotiations had finished, he said.

McCarty further noted that the full committee reviewing the contracts for the city didn't have a chance to review the final document voted on by the council.

That committee included Human Resources Director Anne Randazzo, City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino, Mayor Stephen Zanni and Solomon. 

Solomon said the changes were approved by Zanni and then later by the City Council at its meeting Sept. 18, 2017.

Solomon declined to comment for this story, but said earlier in the week that the chief's salary and the patrolmen's salaries are at least partially linked by state law.

"Some sections (of the contract) are, some aren't linked," he said in an interview Wednesday.

When asked about the email he sent Gardner, he said he couldn't really comment on it because he didn't have a copy of it due to problems with the city's email system.

"The city never provided me with anything," he said. "Nobody will give me the email. The city employee who supposedly sent it doesn't have a copy of it. At least give it back to me."

City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino said Thursday he would provide Solomon with the email if asked.

Solomon, meanwhile, said he may have been directed by the mayor to send the email to the patrolmen's union head in 2017.

"We are assigned tasks all the time," he said. "I can't remember."

Saba: 'Extremely disappointed'

As to whether changes he proposed to the patrolmen's contract benefited his own salary, Solomon wouldn't say when asked about it Thursday.

But he said Wednesday that his salary is under dispute.

"I haven't seen mathematics that my salary is $370,000," he said Wednesday, a figure quoted in a recent story in The Eagle-Tribune.

"I've heard so many different numbers. My salary is in dispute with the city. Now it's $297,000, but that's in dispute. They sent me a letter saying what it was," he continued. "I have more important things going on. I'm trying to focus on operations and the morale in the Police Department."

He said morale is low, because of "attacks on the police, which are endless."

"They are cutting the police budget. It's been an onslaught for just over two years now," he said.

Saba said he is "extremely disappointed" by what's going on in the department.

"As you can see, it has become more and more obvious, the people in the Police Department, the superiors, including the union and the chief, worked deliberately to change the contract," he said.

Making matters worse, he said, is that when the City Council voted to approve the two police contracts Sept. 18, 2017, members were also given four other city union contracts to vote on.

"It was very clear, when they were given almost 300 pages, six contracts, they're not lawyers," he said. "And they were never given a summary that said: 'Here's the new contract.' Instead, they were purposely given an overabundance of pieces of paper and inside it were superiors and patrolmen's contracts." 

Base pay calculations

Patrolmen's actual salaries were not immediately available this week. A public records request has been made for them.

However, the patrolmen's union contract and the highlighted sections inserted by Solomon show how the base salaries of patrolmen, and thus the superior officers and the chief, were all increased.

For example, in the old contract language, a cleaning allowance of $700 was paid annually in a stipend to patrolmen. But wording inserted at the last minute increased the allowance to $800 in 2018 and $900 in 2019 and also shifted those amounts to the base pay of patrolmen.

The same was done for the Quinn Bill education incentives and hazardous duty pay — the amounts increased and were inserted into base pay, rather than being paid in a stipend.

The effect of those changes boosted salaries and also increases pensions. It also means that annual cost-of-living increases go up as they are based on a percentage of base pay.

David Gardner, Methuen Police Patrolman Union President, did not return emails or phone calls to his Police Department number.

 

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