Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon, one of the nation’s highest paid law enforcement officials, announced his retirement Monday, capping years of controversy that have roiled the city of 50,000.
Solomon, who ran the city’s police department for nearly two decades, has been on paid leave since the state’s inspector general issued a scathing report in December concluding he helped draft labor contracts that benefited himself and his allies, raising his salary to more than $300,000 a year.
The current city council has voted no confidence in Solomon while the state Civil Service Commission is investigating hiring and promotions in the Methuen Police Department under his leadership. Critics have accused Solomon of giving jobs and promotions to favored candidates in the months after the City Council approved a contract that paid him $326,707 in 2019.
Solomon has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and defended his salary as one that was publicly examined before the city’s leaders approved the contract.
But some city officials said Solomon should not be allowed to simply retire without consequences after all the years of sparring with city officials over allegations of corruption. Solomon is also eligible for a pension that could exceed $240,000 a year.
“The chief is kidding himself if he thinks that his abrupt retirement is going to wipe the slate clean,” said City Councilor D.J. Beauregard. “We’re not going to give corruption a free pass. We still need federal and/or state criminal authorities to prosecute corruption in Methuen. This is a criminal conspiracy that needs to be investigated thoroughly.”
Solomon’s critics are also concerned that he may feel emboldened to submit an exorbitant bill to the city for unused vacation and other time that only he kept track of. And they feel that he should face legal consequences for his alleged wrongdoing.
Solomon submitted a retirement letter to Mayor Neil Perry, who in a brief note to councilors seemed to suggest that he, too, doesn’t believe the chief’s retirement means the end of the controversy.
“At 8:49 a.m. today, I received a note from the Chief announcing his intent to retire,” wrote Perry. “I have forwarded that note to legal counsel, on copy here as well. I do not believe there is anything we can do to prevent him from submitting that.
“Whether or not we pursue other action is a separate discussion,” he said, urging the councilors not to respond publicly to Solomon’s letter.
He did not provide the letter to councilors, but the chief already had given it to a local media outlet, the Valley Patriot, whose editor, Tom Duggan, has been a staunch ally.
In the lengthy letter, Solomon ticks off a long list of accomplishments including increasing the use of technology and community policing, but said his retirement is “in the best interest of our community, the men and women of the Methuen Police Department, and perhaps most importantly, the members of my family.
“While I remain confident in my ability to defend my personal and professional performance in any forum, the ceaseless baseless attacks on my integrity, together with the constant political interference in the management of the department, have created a negative environment that is detrimental to the city, the dedicated members of the department, and to my family and friends.”
A management audit ordered last winter by Perry is expected to be submitted to the city imminently. On a local podcast Jan. 7, Perry said the audit was highly critical of Solomon’s leadership of the department.
As part of the audit, officers were allowed to air grievances against Solomon anonymously and several said they took advantage of the offer.
On Monday, several officers said they were relieved that Solomon may finally be gone. But they were afraid to speak openly, fearful that Solomon — who still has friends and allies in city government — might retaliate.
“The retirement of Chief Joseph Solomon comes as a relief to the majority of the members of this department, who feel vindicated by his departure,” said one officer in a written statement.
Solomon was placed on administrative leave in late December after the state inspector general’s report concluded that the chief and other officials engaged in potential misconduct by drafting contracts that would pay him and senior officers exorbitant salaries.
Perry also placed on paid leave a Solomon ally, Captain Greg Gallant, head of the 19-member Methuen Police Superior Officers Association.
“This is a personnel matter,” said Perry in a statement at the time, “and as such will be handled with appropriate due diligence, confidentiality, and professionalism. Actions taken today are not considered disciplinary at this time.”
Solomon was 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.”
The mayor named Executive Captain Kristopher McCarthy acting chief of police, and Lieutenant Randy Haggar captain of field operations.
In his letter Monday, Solomon noted his “strong disagreement” with Cunha’s findings.
“Since I was never interviewed by anyone from the OIG — never given the most basic common courtesy to respond to accusations I believe are blatantly false — I am frustrated and deeply disappointed,” he said.
Last August City councilors unanimously voted “no confidence” in Solomon after he refused to take unpaid days off to help avoid layoffs of other police officers.
Solomon had already been fired once before. In 2008, then mayor William Manzi terminated him, claiming he mismanaged grant money and engaged in conflicts of interest. But the civil service commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension without pay and found no willful misconduct. In 2014, he collected a $195,000 settlement from the city for wrongful termination.
Solomon has remained bitter about his termination and told officials the city still owes him for the emotional toll his firing had on him and his family.
Now the civil service commission is investigating, rather than rescuing him.
Councilor Mike Simard said “the majority of the men and women of this department who have been dragged through the mud these last few years are relieved and looking forward to new leadership.”
But Councilor Joel Faretra Monday said it’s too soon to celebrate Solomon’s departure.
“Let’s not throw a parade yet,” he said. “There is still a lot to figure out ... how much he is owed, the results of the audit and if anything will come out of the inspector general’s report.”