A victory for common decency, and a resounding defeat for greed and avarice.
That’s what the residents of Methuen should take from an arbitrator’s ruling on Monday, which found that the city isn’t on the hook for a collective bargaining agreement that would have given some police captains a base pay of more than $500,000 a year in 2020, making them perhaps the highest-paid law enforcement members in the country, never mind Massachusetts.
Loretta Attardo wrote that top city officials had no idea when they signed the agreement in 2017 that it would have paid officers exorbitant salaries the financially struggling city of 50,000 could ill afford to pay.
Attardo found that Greg Gallant, the head of the superior officers union, added language to the contract that built in rapidly escalating pay increases for senior police officers, without discussing the specifics with Mayor Steve Zanni before he signed.
“There is no evidence that these multiple layered additions to base pay were ever discussed in negotiations,’’ Attardo wrote. “Nor were they brought to the attention of either Mayor Zanni or the (City) Council after Captain Gallant added them to the final contract.’’
Gallant discussed the additional language only with then-police chief Joseph Solomon, the arbitrator found.
Zanni and several former city councilors have told the Boston Globe they had no idea what the contract would have paid the police. It was Mayor James Jajuga, a former state secretary of public safety, state senator and Zanni’s successor in 2018, who realized what the contracts would have paid.
Jajuga refused to honor them and the union filed the grievance that ended up before the arbitrator.
The arbitrator’s ruling aligns with that of State Inspector General Glenn Cunha, who in December 2020 concluded that Solomon and Gallant, head of the 19-member Methuen Police Superior Officers Association, violated their duty to the public by creating contracts that paid police leadership excessive salaries without explaining the costs to then mayor Zanni.
At that same time, the state Civil Service Commission began probing hiring and promotions in the Methuen Police Department on Solomon’s watch.
Critics claimed Solomon gave jobs and promotions to favored candidates in the months after city councilors approved a contract that paid him $326,707 in 2019.
Solomon was first placed on administrative leave and then retired in the wake of the inspector general’s report.
Gallant was placed on paid administrative leave at the same time. He’s still on leave.
But even in retirement, Solomon continues on Methuen’s payroll, since he’s eligible for a pension that likely exceeds $240,000 a year.
Neil Perry, Methuen’s current mayor, called the decision “Great news for the city!!!!”
Newly elected City Council chairman D.J. Beauregard called the decision “a great day for the taxpayers of Methuen, and a not-so-great day for the people who conspired to rob them.’’
We’d put departed Chief Solomon at the top of that infamous list.
It’s a sad commentary that Solomon, who’d been Methuen’s top cop for nearly 20 years, gained national notoriety — not for his crime-fighting skills — but for his complicity in labor contracts that benefited himself and his close associates.
It’s a guilt by association the city of Methuen doesn’t deserve.
During the contract fallout that dominated headlines a year ago, city officials decided to refund more than $100,000 in alcohol license fees to Methuen restaurants struggling to survive during the pandemic.
That’s the Methuen we hope can put this unfortunate, anomalous chapter behind it.