The Methuen City Council Monday night overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Joseph Solomon, one of the highest paid police chiefs in the country.
Councilors were angry that Solomon, who made almost $326,000 in 2019, refused to take unpaid days off to help the struggling city balance its budget. Every other department head took unpaid furlough days. Neil Perry, mayor of this city of 50,000, cut his own salary from $80,000 to $68,000 a year.
“If you put out a public poll in the city of Methuen into every household and asked, ’Do you have confidence in Chief Solomon?’ I guarantee nine out of 10 are going to say no,” said council chair James McCarty. “Our job is to relay that wish. I think this resolution does that.”
The measure, 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.”
The vote was 8-0, with one councilor, Nicholas DiZoglio, voting “present.”
DiZoglio argued that the vote was being rushed and that the council should wait until an audit of the Police Department, ordered by the mayor, is completed in October.
But DJ Beauregard, who drafted the measure, said councilors don’t need an audit to tell them what they already know — Solomon is collecting “outrageously excessive compensation.”
The chief, Beauregard said, “has done tremendous damage to the reputation of the city of Methuen” which has come to be known as the city where “public sector employees are millionaires.”
Solomon, who spoke to the councilors about a plan to redeploy officers in the wake of budget cuts, left the meeting before the no-confidence vote was taken.
But he issued a statement calling the vote “nothing more than a political attack on the Methuen Police Department and an attempt to slow the progress being made toward modernizing both this agency and the city of Methuen.”
Even though Solomon is one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the United States, making more than Boston police Commissioner William Gross, he argues that he should be paid much more. The mayor had asked all city department heads to take 10 unpaid days off to help the city reduce a $7 million budget gap, but Solomon declined.
The department has been forced to lay off four patrolmen and demote six superior officers.
Solomon has said that a 2017 contract he negotiated with Steve Zanni, the former mayor, calls for him to be paid about $50,000 more per year than his current salary. 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.
The vote is largely symbolic, but frustrated city councilors said they want to send a message that, like many of their constituents, they are outraged by the chief’s unwillingness to negotiate a more reasonable salary.
Only the mayor has the right to discipline Solomon or cut his pay. He has said he will take no action until an audit, currently being conducted by former State Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn, is complete.
Monday night’s vote was the second no-confidence vote in Solomon. Councilors, none of whom still serve on the council, passed a similar resolution in 2007, a year before then-Mayor William Manzi fired Solomon for a host of alleged violations, including misspending federal grant money. Solomon appealed to the state Civil Service Commission which reduced the punishment from termination to a one-year suspension without pay.
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.
“This is not the first time I have had to endure attacks on my character and my work as chief of police. More than a decade ago, politicians with a similar agenda tried to run me out of the job I love by attacking me,” Solomon said Monday, adding that he “was not swayed then and will not be swayed now.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.