METHUEN — A trio of Methuen city councilors is taking action to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements, which are paid for by taxpayers.
Councilor Jessica Finocchiaro, along with newcomers D.J. Beauregard and Allison Saffie, will present a new policy at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting.
After a second read and a majority vote, the policy would prevent the future use of any secretive agreements between the city of Methuen and a member, officer or employee of the community. It would also release anyone currently silenced by an agreement.
In response to a public records request from The Eagle-Tribune — also sent to municipalities across the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire — Methuen Solicitor Richard D'Agostino said, "The City (all departments included) does not possess any copies of non-disclosure agreements."
Councilors spearheading the policy agree that they were inspired by an ongoing and heated effort by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, to ban secretive agreements across the Commonwealth.
On Monday, DiZoglio accused Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, of using the agreements and taxpayer dollars to "legally muzzle" accusers who come forward with claims of harassment and abuse by their employers.
Her message has been heard in the Merrimack Valley, specifically by North Andover Finance Committee Chairperson Sasha Weinreich and new Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodriguez, who stopped the practice after acknowledging three non-disclosures signed in as many years in that town.
“As a matter of principle and policy," Murphy-Rodriguez wrote in a statement Friday, "the Town of North Andover will not use non-disclosure language in any personnel agreements" moving forward. It remains unclear how much money taxpayers contributed to uphold the three agreements.
Beauregard praised the change in North Andover and is hoping to follow suit.
"This is an issue that I'm happy to see Diana really taking the lead on down on Beacon Hill," said Beauregard. "It's something we really should have on the books even though it hasn't been, to the best of my knowledge, an issue here."
He has spoken briefly with DiZoglio about the goal.
"I'm incredibly proud of councilor Beauregard and his colleagues who are advocating for a quick passage of this provision that will ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to silence employees about potential abusive behaviors in our city government," DiZoglio said.
Finocchiaro denounced the practice, saying, "It's never okay for elected officials or public employees to use taxpayer funds to protect their own image."
She also said, "If something goes wrong in city government, residents have every right to know about it."
Saffie does not foresee opposition when it comes time to vote.
"It's another good move toward transparency," she said. "Even though it's not an issue now, we've had a lot of issues and everyone wants transparency. This is a good step in the right direction."
Though not a voting member of the council, Mayor Neil Perry said he looks forward to the discussion regarding non-disclosure agreements.
"Public funds should not be used that way," he said.