An arbitrator ruled on Monday that Methuen city officials do not have to abide by a collective bargaining agreement that would have given some police captains base pay of more than $500,000 a year in 2020, making them perhaps the highest-paid law enforcement officials in the state.
The arbitrator, Loretta T. Attardo, wrote that officials had no idea when they signed the agreement in 2017 that the contract would have paid officers exorbitant salaries, salaries that the financially struggling city of 50,000 could not afford to pay.
The head of the superior officers union, Greg Gallant, added language to the contract that built in rapidly escalating pay increases for senior officers, without ever discussing the specifics with Mayor Steve Zanni before he signed it, the arbitrator found.
“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. Solomon retired in 2021 after an uproar over his salary, which exceeded $300,000, making him one of the nation’s highest-paid police chiefs. Solomon’s own salary would have risen even more if the senior officers’ contract had not been invalidated.
Zanni and several former city councilors have told the Globe they had no idea what the contract would have paid the police. It wasn’t until former mayor James Jajuga was sworn in, in 2018, that he realized what the contracts would have paid. He refused to honor them and the union filed the grievance that ended up before the arbitrator. Police continue to be paid under a previous collective bargaining agreement.
Attardo said she found no evidence that the contract reflected a “mutual consensus on these very complicated wage terms.” Without a “meeting of the minds,” she added. the contract is unenforceable, she said.
Methuen’s current mayor, Neil Perry, called the decision “Great news for the city!!!!
“I look forward to putting this behind us and working with City Council and the Superiors Union to create a fair and amenable agreement for all — as we have done in all our collective bargaining this year.”
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.”
Solomon was first placed on administrative leave and then retired after Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn Cunha in December 2020 found that he and Gallant violated their duty to the public by secretly drafting contracts that paid him and other senior officers excessive salaries without the knowledge of city officials.
Gallant was placed on administrative leave at the same time. He is still on leave, city officials said, and receiving his regular pay.
“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 December 2020 statement. “Everyone involved failed the people of Methuen.”
Neither Gallant nor Solomon responded to requests for comment.
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.