The election of a new mayor and city council in Methuen, and the impending departure of Mayor James Jajuga will mark the end of conflict, chaos, and controversy that has divided the city and left Methuen’s reputation as a national disgrace.
Over the last two years of the Jajuga administration the mayor refused to fulfill his duties as school committee chairman by showing up at the meetings and dealing with what turned out to be a $4M school debt on his watch… or his non-watch as it were.
Jajuga not only neglected his duties as school committee chair, but stopped showing up at city council meetings after months of pounding his fist and screaming at councilors who dared to question his lack of policies and actions to make the city better.
What’s more, Jajuga failed to solve the ongoing controversy over the Methuen Police Superior Officer’s contract. A contract he voted for as a city councilor even though his son is a captain on the police department.
On his watch Jajuga allowed former superintendent Judy Scannell to get a golden retirement parachute instead of conducting an investigation and firing her for; overspending, and not getting her state required license to be a superintendent.
While Jajuga has the full support of his cronies at the Eagle Tribune – who called his lack of efforts “yeoman’s work”, we are not fooled.
Mayor Jajuga came into office two years ago and left the city far worse off than when he arrived.
Multiple lawsuits, a police department under fire, a DPW building crumbling around city workers, nepotism, conflicts of interest, claims of bribery and extortion, and the utter lack of willingness to work with others has left a series of monumental problems for the new mayor and council to solve.
What’s more, violent crime in Methuen continues to soar while the “public safety mayor” made no effort to target the crime riddled areas, and no effort to reorganize the police department to make it more efficient and effective for city residents.
Enter Neil Perry and the newly elected city council.
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When the new council and mayor take over in January they may already be behind the eight ball with a budget deficit. The Superior Officer’s contract is going to arbitration next month and if they win any amount of money as the result of Jajuga’s neglect and retaliation, the new officials coming in will have to find the money to pay that bill.
Unfortunately for Methuen, the 2019 city council refused to heed the warnings of Councilor Jessica Finocchiaro, who advised that only borrowing $4M to cover the school overspending would leave the city financially vulnerable if unanticipated expenses come up in the near future. She recommended borrowing an additional million or more “just in case”.
Now, if the Police Superior Officer’s union wins their arbitration case, or even part of it, there is no money in the city budget to cover that “unexpected expense”.
That means the new mayor and council may have to raise taxes or lay off employees come January.
This kind of short-sightedness on behalf of the current mayor and council have taken a bad financial situation for the city and made it even worse.
This is sad for everyone involved.
We hope the new council and mayor can find creative ways to solve Methuen’s self-inflicted wounds and begin to bring the city back to financial stability. But, it won’t be easy and it won’t come without sacrifices.
We are just glad that the era … or error of the Jajuga administration is finally almost over.
While we know Jajuga and the 2019 city council have learned nothing from their mistakes and stubbornness over the last two years, the rest of us have learned a lot.
Now, let’s see if the incoming officials can take that knowledge and make things better for Methuen’s future. ◊