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Methuen police chief placed on leave after inspector general finds he violated his duty by orchestrating exorbitant police contracts

Report: Chief Solomon “chose his own interests” over public safety

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon is one of the highest-paid law enforcement officials in the United States, receiving $326,707 in 2019.Metheun Police Department

Embattled Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon was placed on administrative leave Wednesday after the state inspector general released a scathing report concluding that the chief and other officials engaged in potential misconduct by drafting contracts that would pay him and senior officers exorbitant salaries.

Mayor Neil Perry also placed on paid leave a Solomon ally, Capain Greg Gallant, head of the 19-member Methuen Police Superior Officers Association.

“After speaking with the office of the inspector general this morning, reviewing the report issued today . . . and consulting with legal counsel, I am placing two individuals at the Methuen Police Department on paid administrative leave,” said Perry in a statement. “This is a personnel matter, and as such will be handled with appropriate due diligence, confidentiality, and professionalism. Actions taken today are not considered disciplinary at this time.”

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Solomon is one of the highest-paid law enforcement officials in the United States, receiving $326,707 in 2019. The contract for Gallant and the other superior officers, which never took effect, would have paid some lieutenants and captains, as well as Solomon, even more.

The report by Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha found that Solomon and Gallant violated their duty to the public by creating contracts that paid police leadership excessive salaries without explaining the costs for former mayor Steve Zanni.

“This total failure of leadership by Methuen’s former mayor and city council allowed Chief Solomon and Captain Gallant to put their personal financial interests ahead of the interests of the citizens they swore an oath to protect and serve,” said Cunha in a statement. “Everyone involved failed the people of Methuen.”

He had previously urged Methuen officials to rescind the police contracts. In the new report, Cunha recommended the city take several steps to assume tighter control over negotiations for union contracts including barring anyone with a potential conflict of interest, like Solomon, from taking part in the bargaining.

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He also urged the mayor to “evaluate all available avenues of discipline” against Solomon and Gallant.

In February, Perry appointed an auditor to review management practices in the police department. The auditor’s report is expected to be submitted in draft form to the mayor soon.

In his statement, Perry also said he will “follow the appropriate guidance of the inspector general and will carefully consider this report, the soon to be received audit, and all applicable laws in arriving at a proper course of action.”

The mayor said he is naming Executive Captain Kristopher McCarthy acting chief of police, and Lieutenant Randy Haggar has been named captain of field operations.

City councilors, who unanimously voted “no confidence” in Solomon in August after he refused to take unpaid days off to help avoid layoffs of other police officers, hailed the mayor’s action.

The inspector general’s “blistering report unpacks the breathtaking corruption that has tormented the taxpayers of Methuen for years,” said Councilor DJ Beauregard. “I strongly support the mayor’s prompt and forceful response.”

Added, council Chairman James McCarty, “I fully support the action taken by the mayor in response to the IG report. We are not yet out of the woods, but today is a positive step forward. The report speaks for itself.”

In the 33-page report, Cunha found a “failure of leadership at all levels” in Methuen, a city of 50,000, but singled out Solomon, Zanni, and Gallant for the harshest criticism.

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The three did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Solomon and Gallant, Cunha found, devised bloated contracts and Zanni approved them without knowing what was in them. It wasn’t until Zanni’s successor, James Jajuga, was sworn in in 2018 that the potential impact of the contracts became known.

According to the IG’s report, before Zanni signed the superior officers’ contract in September 2017, Solomon remained silent as Gallant slipped language into the contract that would have increased Solomon’s own salary, which was already one of the highest in the country. It also would have increased superior officers’ pay by between 35 and 183 percent. That contract would have paid the most senior captains $432,000 a year and would have had disastrous financial consequences for the city, the report suggests.

And Solomon served on the city’s negotiating team for the superior and patrol officers’ contracts even though his own pay was tied to the union contracts and so he had a potential conflict of interest, Cunha wrote.

“No one gained more from the addition of the inflated base pay language than Chief Solomon,” wrote Cunha. “The finalization of the patrol officers and Superior Officers Contracts placed Chief Solomon’s annual pay at $375,548, though Jajuga refused to pay it. City records show that even without the massive increase, his salary doubled between fiscal 2017 and fiscal year 2021.”

Zanni negotiated a five-year contract with a salary greater than that of any police chief in Massachusetts and most of the United States, Cunha wrote. Yet Zanni “failed to include basic oversight mechanisms and agreed to expensive and one-sided contract terms.

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“In short, Mayor Zanni violated the most basic fiduciary duties he owed the City: protect the public’s interests and spend the City’s funds appropriately.”

In addition to the chief’s salary, the contract paid him every stipend, allowance, and incentive and leave benefit that any other police officer receives.

When Jajuga finally realized the potential financial impact the contracts could have, and the possibility that police would have to be laid off to cover the cost, Solomon still remained silent, according to the inspector general.

“Chief Solomon chose his own interests over the safety of the public,” Cunha wrote.

Jajuga also refused to fund the superior officers contract and it has not yet been implemented. The union brought a grievance against the city and the case is in arbitration.

Neither Zanni nor the City Council, which approved the contract, ever sought to determine the true cost of the superior officers’ contract, Cunha found. They believed the contract provided pay raises of 0, 0, and 2 percent for the three years it was in effect. They didn’t realize and weren’t told that the contract inflated officers’ pay by redefining “base pay” to include thousands of dollars in extras, a calculation that dramatically increased officers’ pay, including Solomon’s. The contract also included language that meant that higher ranking officers would receive multiples of the base pay.

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But both Gallant and Solomon knew the contract language would give them huge raises, the report says.

In an e-mail Gallant sent his lawyer in August 2017 before the contract was approved, he described the contract’s “great increase, and it all compounds.” His lawyer, Gary Nolan, responded that he hoped the City Council “doesn’t bring their calculators,” according to the IG’s report.

In early September, Solomon e-mailed the then-head of the patrolmen’s union, David Gardner, to suggest the patrol officers contract contain the same inflated base pay as the superiors’ contract. Solomon’s own salary is tied directly to that of the highest paid patrol officer.

“Chief Solomon’s role in both the patrol officers’ and superiors’ negotiations was to provide police expertise to the city,” Cunha wrote. “However, Chief Solomon went well beyond advising the mayor and instead he acted to benefit the patrol officers’ union and himself.”

Cunha already questioned the validity of the superior officers contract. In February 2019 he concluded Zanni and the City Council likely violated state laws, failed to comply with the city’s regulations, and breached their fiduciary duties to residents by approving the superior officers contract.






Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.