Categories

Archives

Blistering Report Details Methuen Corruption

REPORT: Four Councilors
Benefited from Police Contract Vote

The state Inspector General’s Office (IG) is an independent state agency that conducts investigations of government agencies and makes recommendations when wrongdoing is found.
The IG investigated the process of the City of Methuen’s superior officer’s contract approval that has long been the subject of dispute.

The IG’s office found that at least four members of the previous city council personally benefited from the contract they approved, and that the city council’s vote to approve the police contract was “likely” illegal.

Contrary to what some Methuen officials have said since the report was released, the report also states that the illegal activity of certain councilors does not necessarily void the police superior officers’ contract.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Former City Council Chairman Jamie Atkinson and Sean Fountain voted on the police contract and then within weeks of leaving office, both took a job in the police department, despite a law that prohibits councilors from taking a city position within a year of leaving office. In order for this to happen, the new council asked State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell to seek special legislation at The State House to waive the legal requirement.

VIDLER AND JAJUGA
“On July 10, 2017 (while contract negotiations were ongoing) Chief Solomon, with then-Mayor Zanni’s approval, increased the number of captains on the force from three to five and promoted then-Councilor Jajuga’s son to captain.”

Councilor Lynn Vidler’s husband was also promoted to sergeant.

“Because Councilors Jajuga and Vidler had immediate family members who stood to gain from approval of the Superiors’ Contract, they likely were prohibited from voting on the Superiors’ Contract. Accordingly, Councilors Jajuga and Vidler could only vote on the contract if the Council properly invoked the Rule of Necessity.

The fact that the Council likely improperly invoked the Rule of Necessity does not automatically void the Council’s vote to approve the Superiors’ Contract.”

The report further states that in order for the contract vote to be rescinded, two things must happen;

1) “In order for the vote to be rescinded, the Council must first request its rescission to the State Ethics Commission.
2) Second, the State Ethics Commission must find that a violation of the Conflict of Interest Law “substantially influenced” the action taken by the municipal body.”

That means the Ethics Commission would have to find Councilors Atkinson, Jajuga, Fountain, and/or Vidler guilty of violating the conflicts of interest laws in a way that substantially influenced the vote.

WHY?
Conflicted councilors said they were allowed to vote on the contract because of what they called “The Rule of Necessity”. It states, in part, that if an elected body has too many members with a conflict of interest that there aren’t enough votes to pass a measure, the conflicted councilors can vote anyway. But, “The Rule of Necessity” has very specific requirements before it can be invoked.
Councilors with a conflict of interest can only vote on a measure if:

A) The body is legally required to act, which in this case they were not, and:
B) There are no alternatives, which there were.

Because the council could have delayed the vote of the superior officer’s contract until the new council was seated in January of 2018, it is clear that the council had alternatives, and therefor conflicted councilors improperly invoked the “Rule of Necessity” to vote on their own family members contract.

ADDING CAPTAINS
“On July 10, 2017 (while contract negotiations were ongoing) Chief Solomon, with then-Mayor Zanni’s approval, increased the number of captains on the force from three to five and promoted then-Councilor Jajuga’s son to captain. Chief Solomon promoted Councilor Vidler’s husband to sergeant. [EDITOR’S NOTE, THE CHIEF DOES NOT MAKE PROMOTIONS, THE MAYOR DOES] Because Councilors Jajuga and Vidler had immediate family members who stood to gain from approval of the Superiors’ Contract, they likely were prohibited from voting on the Superiors’ Contract. Accordingly, Councilors Jajuga and Vidler could only vote on the contract if the council properly invoked the Rule of Necessity.”

Which they didn’t.

JAJUGA ILLEGALLY PAYING POLICE SUPERIORS

Methuen Mayor Jim Jajuga, faced with the option of paying the superior officers under the approved contract, negotiated with the union to pay them less than what the original contract called for. This is called a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU. The Superior officers willingly agreed to accept the lower pay amount in the MOU, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But, the IG ruled that: “The MOU is a contract. Contracts in the City of Methuen require the approval of the City Council. The City Council did not approve the MOU. As a result, the City is paying the superior officers based on the MOU in violation of both M.G.L. c. 40, § 4, and its Charter. Plainly speaking, the MOU is likely unenforceable. By continuing to pay superior officers based on the MOU, the Mayor is frustrating the purpose of M.G.L. c. 40, § 4, which is to provide checks and balances between the legislative and executive functions of the City.” That means legally the mayor has to pay superior officers the higher amount under the original contract until or unless the vote for the original contract is rescinded.

TWO VOTES IN ONE DAY
Contracts such as the police superior officers’, require that the council vote twice at two separate meetings before the contract is legally considered approved. The IG report states that the council voted twice at the same meeting on the superior officers’ contract.

INFLATED BASE PAY
Much has been made of the inflated salaries of superior officers under the original contract and how those salaries rose so fast.

The IG report states that previous superior officers’ contracts counted “base pay” as only the base salary and did not include education and longevity differentials, detail and overtime, etc. But, the new contract voted on by the pervious council defined base pay as including those extras. This caused what some people are calling a “stacking” of the salaries.

NO WRONGDOING FOUND ON BEHALF OF POLICE
Throughout the 17-page report by the Inspector General on the police superior officers’ contract, fault was found by former Mayor Steve Zanni, current Mayor and former Councilor Jim Jajuga, current Councilor Lynn Vidler, former Councilors Jamie Atkinson, and Sean Fountain.

Nowhere in the report, however, did the IG find any wrongdoing on behalf of the Methuen Police, the Superior Officers, or the Superior Officers Union.

The report also didn’t change the position the city was in regarding 50+ layoffs after the council cut $1.8M out of the police budget. Yet, in light of the report Mayor Jajuga has announced he will start paying the superior officers at the 2014 contracted salary rate, that is, if the coucnil puts back nearly $1.5M of the $1.8M they cut last year from the police budget.

For their part, the Superior Officers’ Union has stepped up on more than one occasion to negotiate a lower salary amount for the betterment of the city, but councilors had no interest in resolving the issue.

Chief Solomon, who has no culpability in this matter, [as the mayor is legally responsible for all promotions] proposed that the city council level fund the police department to last year’s numbers, saying that would prevent all layoffs.

The council ignored his request.

According to police, the firefighters and teachers’ contracts all have the same language that is in their contract.

They said all they wanted was to be treated fairly on a level playing field. ◊

ValleyPatriot

ValleyPatriot

The Valley Patriot is a free monthly print newspaper serving Northern Massachusetts, and Southern New Hampshire. The print edition is published by the 10th of each month and is distributed to 51 cities and towns.

More Posts

One Response to Blistering Report Details Methuen Corruption

  1. Hugh Jorgan Reply

    April 5, 2019 at 11:36 AM

    Disgraced former Councilor Jamie Atkinson is back on the public payroll in the Methuen Police Records Department.

Leave a Reply