METHUEN — Police Chief Joseph Solomon said in a letter delivered to Mayor Neil Perry Monday morning that he is retiring after 35 years on the force.
"I am writing to inform you of my intent to retire from the Methuen Police Department as I turn 60 this month," he wrote in the letter, which he made available to The Eagle-Tribune.
"As a life-long resident of Methuen, I believe this decision is made in the best interest of our community, the men and women of the Methuen Police Department, and perhaps most importantly, the members of my family," he said. "While I remain confident in my ability to defend my personal and professional performance in any forum, the ceaseless baseless attacks on my integrity, together with the constant political interference in the management of the department, have created a negative environment that is detrimental to the city, the dedicated members of the department, and to my family and friends."
Perry refused to comment about the letter, although he did confirm its receipt.
The announcement caps more than three years of controversy at the Methuen Police Department, starting with the approval of new contracts for the Superior Officers' Union which gave Solomon and the officers exorbitant raises that would have made them the highest-paid police officers in the state, if not the country.
The 2017 contract negotiations between the chief, the superior officers and then-Mayor Stephen Zanni have been scrutinized by local and state officials, including the state Inspector General, who found serious flaws in the way the contract was negotiated. Approval of the union contract by the 2017 City Council — many of whom had relatives on the police force — has been criticized by state and local officials as well.
Solomon's contract, which would have garnered him a salary approaching $400,000 a year, has not been funded at that level and will likely end up in litigation.
The Superior Officers' Union contract likewise has not been funded at the levels sought by the union, and instead they are being paid based on their previous contract, which expired in 2017. A legal battle between the city and the union is currently being reviewed by a Boston arbitrator. A decision on whether to fund the contract is expected later this year.
Meanwhile, there are many investigations, reports and threats of lawsuits stemming from the ongoing conflict between police and the city.
In his five-page retirement letter, Solomon touted many improvements he made in the department during his tenure.
"Over these years, I have always fought for what I believe has been in the best interest of our police department and our collective obligation to serve and protect our neighbors throughout the city," he wrote. "This decision — to move on personally and professionally — is made with exactly that goal in mind."
He went on to highlight initiatives he led, such as community policing, school-based resource officers, improvements in law enforcement technology such as body-cameras, creation of a police academy with close ties to the Methuen department and a number of other issues.
He mentioned numerous awards the department won and how he traveled to the White House several times to discuss his law enforcement initiatives.
Near the end of the letter, Solomon lashed out at the Inspector General's report, saying he strongly disagreed with "the provisions of the recently released report of the Massachusetts OIG that relate directly to my personal performance.
"Since I was never interviewed by anyone from the OIG — never given the most basic common courtesy to respond to accusations I believe are blatantly false — I am frustrated and deeply disappointed. Although I am certainly willing and able to fight as I have in the past, as I noted earlier in this letter, I have decided to act in the best interest of our community and the department I love and respect. The impact that another long, drawn-out fight would have on the city, the department, and on my family is something I believe should be avoided at all cost."
The IG's report found, among other problems, that both Solomon and Capt. Greg Gallant had used the union contract bargaining process to enrich themselves at the cost of taxpayers. Gallant was president of the Superior Officers' Union in 2017 when the contract was negotiated. The report also found fault with Zanni and the City Council at the time, many of whom had relatives working for the Police Department.
Immediately after the state IG's report was released on Dec. 23, Perry placed both Solomon and Gallant on paid administrative leave.
An independent audit of the Police Department, which has been completed but not yet released publicly, does not contradict the findings in the IG's report, according to Perry.
City Councilor Mike Simard, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, has opened his own investigation into the department, using the powers vested in the City Council through the City Charter. A "2-11" investigation enables the council to issue subpoenas and compel employees to testify about matters within their department.
"This (Solomon's retirement) has no bearing on the 2-11," Simard said.
Along with the audit, the IG's report and Simard's investigation, the state Civil Service Commission has also announced its own investigation into whether Solomon hired friends and allies by appointing them as intermittent officers. It was alleged that Solomon used the "intermittent officer" designation to bypass the requirements of Civil Service.
Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to Perry and Solomon that the commission is seeking "any and all" documents regarding "appointment and promotion of any police personnel in Methuen’s Police Department, including but not limited to, intermittent, reserve and/or full-time police officers, during the prior 10 years."
The state Ethics Commission also filed its own report on the events leading up to the approval of the police contract in 2017, finding that former Mayor James Jajuga, a city councilor at the time, and two other members of the council in 2017 should not have voted on the superior officers' contract.
In a so-called "Public Education Letter" sent by the Ethics Commission on April 30, Jajuga along with former city councilors James Atkinson and Lynn Vidler were informed that "the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Atkinson, Jajuga and Vidler’s participation in the votes violated the conflict of interest law."
However, there were no fines or sanctions by the commission against the former city councilors.
Jajuga said he voted on the contracts because he was given poor legal advice by former City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino.
There have also been numerous threats of legal action between the Police Department and the city.
In May, Andover attorney Peter Caruso sent a letter to all nine city councilors and at least one private citizen to inform them he may be conducting an investigation on behalf of the heads of the patrolmen's and superior officers' unions, as well as police Chief Joseph Solomon over statements made by councilors that could be considered "libel, defamation and invasion of privacy."
Councilors then used $6,000 of their own funds to retain a lawyer just in case Caruso did go ahead and file a lawsuit. To date, no lawsuit has been filed.
Then, in October last year, former City Councilor and laid-off intermittent police officer Sean Fountain threatened in a letter from his attorney to sue the city unless he was paid $1.5 million for loss of wages and mental distress.