The Methuen City Council is preparing a resolution of no confidence in police Chief Joseph Solomon after embarrassing publicity about his enormous paycheck and his refusal to take unpaid days off to help the struggling city work down its $7 million budget shortfall.
Solomon is one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the United States, making $326,000 in 2019, and he argues that he should be paid at least $50,000 a year more. The mayor had asked Solomon and other city department heads to take 10 unpaid days off, but Solomon declined.
“I can’t sign it fast enough,” said Councilor Joel Faretra. " He’s the only department head not willing to take a pay cut. I’d be surprised if the vote isn’t unanimous.”
The resolution, a “formal declaration of no confidence” in Solomon, alleges the chief has brought the city and the Police Department “into disrepute” and “placed his own financial interests ahead of the interests of Methuen taxpayers.” Councilors expect to vote on the symbolic resolution later this month.
It would be the second time in 13 years the Methuen City Council passed a vote of no confidence in Solomon. The first one passed in 2007, a year before then-mayor William Manzi fired him for a host of alleged offenses, including the mismanagement of federal grants. The discipline was later reduced by the state Civil Service Commission to a one-year suspension without pay, concluding that Manzi acted out of “personal bias and political considerations.”
Solomon eventually returned as chief and collected $195,000 from the city to resolve his wrongful termination lawsuit. In addition, the city was ordered to repay the federal government nearly $200,000 in grant money that Solomon had overseen.
“Joe’s got to go,” said council chairman James McCarty. ”I don’t know anybody who has gotten two of these kinds of votes 13 years apart from one another; the city hasn’t had confidence in him in 15 years.”
“For two separate councils, without any individual overlapping, to say this needs to be done is telling,” added Faretra.
Solomon declined to speak to the Globe, but several Methuen residents called on his behalf.
Greg Gallant, president of the Methuen Police Superior Officers Association, said “a silent majority supports the chief. But the vocal minority usually are the ones who get the most press. He has the full confidence of the Methuen superior police officers. I’ve worked personally with the chief for the last 26 years and I’ve found him to be of high integrity and moral character.”
Linda Harvey said she met Solomon when he was working in community policing more than 20 years ago, and she was a lawyer working in juvenile court. She called him “a great advocate for kids.”
“He helped them get into programs,” she said. “He knew that kids needed rehabilitation rather than punishment. That’s when he was at his best.”
The Globe this week reported that Solomon earned more in 2019 than police chiefs in some of the nation’s major cities, including Boston, New York, Chicago, and many others.
Methuen, a city with 50,000 residents, doesn’t have a lot of crime. There hasn’t been a murder in the city this year. Last year, there was one.
But Solomon refused to take 10 unpaid furlough days like all of the other city department heads, even as four officers in his department were laid off to reduce police costs. The mayor, Neil Perry, recently cut his own pay from $80,000 to $68,000 a year.
Solomon has said that a 2017 contract he negotiated with former mayor Steve Zanni calls for him to be paid substantially more than his current salary — about $50,000 more. He said that until he settles the pay dispute, he won’t give up any of his income. His budgeted salary for this year is just under $300,000.
Former mayor Zanni acknowledges he didn’t fully understand the 2017 contract when he signed it. The contract gives the chief every benefit of a patrol officer, such as extra pay for working at night or wearing a body camera, while also guaranteeing him a raise whenever patrolmen get one. In the 2019 fiscal year, Solomon received $23,120 in night differential payments alone, more than $50,000 in education payments, and another $1,200 for passing a fitness test, city records show.
Solomon also co-owns a private investigation firm in Methuen with more than 60 employees, even though he is required under his Methuen contract to be available “24/7.” The company received a federal coronavirus payroll protection grant of between $150,000 and $350,000, according to federal records.
Frustrated city councilors, who have no authority to fire the chief or cut his pay, think passing a no-confidence measure will send a clear message that, like their constituents, councilors are outraged by the chief’s unwillingness to negotiate a more reasonable salary.
Mayor Perry hired an auditor to look at the department’s policies and practices, but suggested last week that whatever the findings, he wouldn’t cut the chief’s pay.
“The point is to put him on notice that things need to change drastically,” said Councilor Mike Simard, who is also a longtime police officer in neighboring Lawrence. “I consider myself a public servant. It’s the opposite with him. He thinks the public is there for him.”
D.J. Beauregard, the councilor who drafted the resolution, said, “The taxpayers of Methuen have been getting fleeced year after year as a result of this scam of a contract, which the chief helped orchestrate. Enough is enough.”
Councilor Steve Saba said the council is “trying to point out that the [police] department is in serious disarray. We have to stop the madness.”
City Council chairman McCarty strongly supports the no-confidence vote, even though he believes it may only harden Solomon’s resolve to stay.
“The last time the chief was removed, the state put him back and he’s still here and he’s become even more emboldened,” McCarty said. “Even if this vote passes unanimously, he may just sit there and laugh.”
No councilors contacted by the Globe said they would oppose such a measure, although Councilor Nick DiZoglio, who was on vacation and hadn’t seen the resolution, said he hoped the mayor and police chief could instead “broker a good deal, which is whatever benefits the city of Methuen at this point.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.