Solomon: No deals
I’m Coming back to work
By: Tom Duggan – August, 2010
Last month, the Mass. Civil Service Commission ruled that the City of Methuen wrongly terminated Police Chief Joe Solomon. After more than two years of appealing his firing by Methuen Mayor Billy Manzi, and a spate of what turned out to be inaccurate stories in the Eagle Tribune, it was ruled that Solomon deserved a one year suspension but not being fired. Since he has been out of work for nearly three years, the city will have to give him two years back pay, including sick and vacation time. Mayor Manzi said he will appeal the Civil Service ruling saying that the commission “substituted their judgement for the elected mayor.”
How do you feel about the ruling?
“Obviously I feel very satisfied with decisions that returns me back to work. As for other areas, I’m still reviewing them.
I was really relieved about the comments of the commissioner. They were very positive and professional statements he made about my management of the Methuen Police Department. His description about my abilities to adequately run the department and the way I had been running the department overall made me feel vindicated.”
“It’s interesting to see someone outside Methuen (the Civil Service Commissioner) who gets what’s going on in this arena. What I was worried about going in was that they wouldn’t really get what the flavor of Methuen politics really is. But he did. He seemed to really hit the nail on the head on a lot of things, and I am really grateful that I got a fair shake based on the evidence not political rumors and innuendo and false statements.”
“Now I am just hoping that after all this time, the Eagle Tribune and the rest of the press will, externally and internally will look at this in an objective manner and report the actual facts. I am hoping other papers will put things fairly and equitably out there for the public now that the facts have all come out.”
“One of my failings going back to 2006 was that I shouldn’t have responded to some of the media accounts. The advantage of sitting back for the last three years was that you reevaluate things and you wish you could redo tings. Based on my personal beliefs, I should have kept my feelings about what they were reporting to myself and stayed away from talking to the Tribune. It just gave the nay-sayers another opportunity to push their agenda in a different direction.”
“The Tribune’s reporting was slanted in a certain direction. And that helped cultivate a political atmosphere whereby people could come forward and make false allegations with impunity. I probably shouldn’t have responded to some of those the way I did because, they just took what I said and blew it out of proportion and made things worse.”
“It was an injustice to everyone. Especially the people of Methuen who are supposed to be reading and interpreting the real facts of any situation and then make up their minds. But when they don’t have all the information, when they only have a slanted view of things, that’s where the injustice comes in.”
“Look, the night of the rally I said, ‘don’t take my word for it read the documents. Don’t be taken in by a press story, take your time, read the reports. You know, people who are involved in city government ought to be reading it and looking at facts so they can make their own decisions about what they believe happened here. But they didn’t get that chance because it was all slanted.”
Asked if he thought it was the inaccurate press accounts of his actions as chief that led to his firing, Solomon said that it was one of the main factors but not the only one.
“There were many factors, obviously the press, but there were personal and political issues involved. Some of that was an intent to attack someone prior to facts coming out abut them to distort the publics view of the facts. It was an attempt to discredit, a preemptive strke.”
“Unfortunately, from 2006 on you never saw an issue played out in newspaper like this was and I understand, absolutely, that a chief having issues like this is very serious. But they (the Tribune) took minor things, miniscule things, and blew it out of proportion. It wasn’t about the advantages of the conferences we went on or the tremendous work that the Methuen police were doing with the Weed and Seed grant or how we had turned around the Arlington Neighborhood. It was how much someone paid for a pretzel at a conference. It was unfair reporting.”
Asked if he was willing to come to an agreement with The City of Methuen for an out of court civil settlement for wrongful termination, he said he was evaluating all his options. “Sometime in the future, when we have reflected on all the facts we will make a decision on that.”
But when Chief Solomon was asked if he was willing to entertain the idea of a buyout and not return to work as the Methuen Police Chief he stated unequivocally:
“Absolutely not! That is not an option. We are open to the idea of a settlement based on the issues that have come out in this report as long as that means I am coming back to work. Either in October, or shortly thereafter depending on the legal process. But I am coming back.”
Solomon was asked how he could possibly come back to duty given that the same political atmosphere and the political animosity still exists.
“Given everything that’s happened, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve had numerous conversation with various chiefs who faced similar situations and I’ve spoken with my legal council who have seen cases like this before and taken their advice.”
“Don’t forget when I took over as chief of police in Methuen the dept was fractioned into five different groups. From the time I came on board through 2006, we successfully reduced those fractions. We had people working harmoniously to serve and protect the people of Methuen. We, and I say we because it wasn’t just me it was the professional officers that I worked with, did such a great job working together.”
“We were nationally recognized for what we did in the Methuen Police Department.”
“So moving forward I guess I’m saying that it isn’t what I am going to accomplish when I come back but what we are going to accomplish as a department and a community.”
“Using the brain trusts of our community and the police department and formulating some of the ways we can expand the community policing philosophy city wide, we had such great success with.”
“I believe in community policing, that’s why we were successful. And it’s the tenants of that program that helped us work to overcome crisis situations in the streets, it led us to be accepted in the neighborhoods, and we had the foresight to obtain a Weed and Seed grant. It’s unheard of for a city of our size to get a grant like that, but we got it.”
“I understand that going back is going to take time to get things going again, it’s an evolution, just as it was when we started years ago. But, we are going to work together we are going to take one step at a time. It’s a daily challenge.”
Asked about how he will be able to work with some of the same politicians and members of he community when he comes back given the history of this issue, Solomon says he will be as professional as he has always been.
“Nobody can ever say I was unprofessional. People see me and interact with me as a professional within the city. My job is to lead our police department and I have no problem working with our council and mayor to do that.
Asked how he could go back to working with Mayor Manzi after Manzi fired him and fought to remove him from his job, Solomon said he doesn’t see a problem.”
“He is the mayor of Methuen. I will be the Chief of Police. We have a direct responsibility to work together for the people of Methuen. I work with people I don’t like or don’t agree with all the time, it’s not about personalities. I have always treated the mayor with respect and I expect we are going to work together for the people. I know I will be doing the best I can to do the job. That’s what being a police officer and a police chief is all about.”
Solomon was asked what happens when politicians in Methuen start coming back at him and attacking him politically.
“All I can do is control my own behavior, I can’t control what other people do. I will be a professional and where there are challenges in that area in some cases, I will have to be exceptionally professional. I don’t put it past any people to try and goad me into having some kind of public reactions, or attempt to use something to manufacture a problem for me. It’s something I will have to be hyper vigilant about.”
“But make no mistake,” he added. “If there’s a legitimate question that councilors or members of the community have about how we run the department or what we are doing, I will look at it.”
“In the past, when someone requested police services from the mayors office or a public official, we did it the way it should be done. I will not be swayed to do anyone any favors. We have to look at this as the job and there’s a lot of extremely qualified officers on the police department and as long as there are no politics and things are done within the law, we will move forward with that.”
“But, I really think it’s time that people who have been negative for the last four years to sit back and stop the negativity and hopefully that’s going to stop.”
Solomon says the hardest part of the entire ordeal was the impact on his family.
“They are really happy with the ruling, but I can tell you that it’s been tumultuous. They’ve had to endure personal sacrifices and the damage done to my family, my partner, my parents was really unfair.”
“A lot of people in my family have received unacceptable treatment in the community that others don’t have to deal with. Reading what Commissioner Stein said, however, and reading the language about politically motivated, arbitrary, capricious and retaliatory manner in which we were treated made us feel like someone finally understood what really happened.”
“We need to go back and show everyone what kind of police chief I have been. I had a great career that was spotless, and when I come back I am going to continue in that tradition.”
“It’s who I am. But, can you ever erase the damage that has been done to us, our family name, and our emotional well being … it can’t be erased. But, we are lifelong Methuenites. Our goal is to make Methuen the best it’s ever been and I and my family have always believed that and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”
Solomon concluded the interview saying that he really wanted to send a message to the people of Methuen who have been reading inaccurate press accounts of what happened.
“I’d like them to know the pride I’ve always had, and sill have for the city of Methuen, for being a cop and serving the citizens. I only ask that befor people form an opinion on this issue that they read the decision in it’s entirety as a whole document, instead of in bits ad pieces because it really paints the real picture from beginning to end. Take the time to obtain the transcripts and the documents and you will be completely surprised that the evidence is there that my actions were justified.What I said in the rally I had in 2007, is to read the documents and make up your own minds”.
“Those facts, with the exception of the reporting of the Valley Patriot, have never been reported on accurately.”
“So, to the people of Methuen, please, make your decision based on the facts not rumors or the Tribune or other press accounts, or what I say. Look at the evidence and you will have a better understanding of this situation.”
“I am looking forward to coming back to work and protecting the citizens of Methuen and I am really glad that this is almost over.”
Tom Duggan is the publisher of The Valley Patriot, a former Lawrence School Committeeman, and hosts the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WCAP, 980AM, every Saturday from 10am-12pm. You can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .