METHUEN — A letter from former police officer and ex-City Councilor Sean Fountain's attorney is just the latest volley in an ongoing war between police and city officials dating back to the summer of 2017.
Fountain, who was laid off earlier this year along with two other intermittent officers, is threatening to sue the city unless he is paid $1.5 million for loss of wages and mental distress — among other reasons.
The letter offers a glimmer into the world of a Police Department where someone with the title of "full-time permanent intermittent police officer" could earn, as Fountain's attorney George Malonis of Dracut wrote, "$47,000 in the second quarter of the last fiscal year alone, with total gross earnings in the amount of $139,961.42 in 2019."
"That was quite a shock," said City Council Chairman James McCarty, referring to Fountain's salary.
The letter claims that Fountain, a full-time officer since 2017, was wrongly targeted by a handful of current city councilors over the past nine months because of his tenure on the city council, leading to the loss of his job.
In September 2017, then-Mayor Stephen Zanni and the City Council approved a controversial and costly Superior Officers' Union contract that would have "bankrupted the city" had it been fully funded, according to city officials in 2018.
Fountain was a member of the City Council in 2017 and voted in favor of the costly contract, which is currently in arbitration. The provisions of the contract are not being honored by the city. Instead, superior officers are being paid based on the prior contract.
Fountain was not only a member of the City Council in 2017, but he was also a "full-time permanent intermittent police officer," the only person in the department with that title, according to the letter.
Malonis blamed poor legal advice from City Solicitor Richard D'Agostino for Fountain taking a vote on the Superior Officers' contract.
D'Agostino "advised Mr. Fountain and the eight other councilors ... that he had invoked a Rule of Necessity, assuring Mr. Fountain and the others that they were eligible to vote" on the contract, Malonis wrote.
The Rule of Necessity, according to the state, "may be used only when an elected board is legally required to act on a matter and it lacks enough members to take valid official action solely due to board members being disqualified by conflicts of interest from participating in the matter."
Malonis wrote that D'Agostino assured Fountain "and the others" that the state Ethics Commission had approved his invocation of the rule of necessity." That statement, Malonis said in a footnote, "was later revealed to be patently false."
Malonis noted that Fountain did not vote on the patrolmen's contract, also approved in September 2017.
Current Mayor Neil Perry would prefer to eliminate the use of intermittent officers. He said he wants to lobby the local state legislative delegation to file a bill that would rescind the 1945 act that establishes intermittent police officers.
"If we are a Civil Service community, we don't need that act," he said.
Intermittent officers are not required to take the state's Civil Service exam, but they are also not allowed to rise through the ranks of the department. Generally, they are used like reserve officers, to take the place of regular officers when vacancies arise on shifts or traffic details.
Fountain, who was eligible to join the patrolmen's union as all intermittent officers are, was soon "assigned to the role and duties of detective" thanks to his "exemplary service as an intermittent officer," according to Malonis.
While several city councilors and others have criticized police Chief Joseph Solomon for promoting Fountain to detective, Malonis said in his letter that "this was not a promotion. It was not a rise through the ranks that would have triggered an obligation to take the Civil Service exam."
But Perry also noted that the state's "Municipal Police Training Committee says every officer must attend the full-time academy and that reserve or intermittent officers are granted a one-time, 270-day waiver."
With Fountain, he said, "we are well past that."
Perry, in a May 12, 2020 letter, told Fountain he was being "removed from the detective division" and would have to revert to a "part-time, permanent intermittent officer" because he hadn't attended the "full-time police training academy as required."
He said Fountain could "work any shifts or details not filled by permanent patrol officers" but could not work more than 32 hours a week.
Additionally, Perry said, "to remain a part-time permanent intermittent officer, as required by MPD policy, you must re-establish residency within Methuen in the next 90 days. Failure to re-establish residency would result in removal from any and all capacities and/or positions within the Methuen MPD."
Fountain moved to Salem, New Hampshire, more than a year ago.
In the end, though, it appears Fountain, along with intermittent officers Brady Abraham and Christopher Gagne, "were laid off due to budget shortfall," according to an Aug. 10 email from the city's Director of Human Resources Lisa Crowley.
However, she wrote, they could continue to work as part-time intermittent officers.
According to Malonis, Fountain has taken a job in the private sector, "which is not comparable to the career that he lost."
The attorney said his client's removal from the department, along with a constant drumbeat of "unlawful bullying" has taken a toll on Fountain's personal life.
"Mr. Fountain continues to endure severe marital stress within the home as he resides with his wife, who is currently employed by the Methuen Police Department, and has felt the adverse effects of this smear campaign upon his marriage."