METHUEN, Mass. — Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon spent Wednesday handing out more than a dozen pink slips.
“Well, it’s a significant blow,” Solomon said. “It absolutely affects the quality of policing.”
Solomon said budget cuts from the ongoing pandemic are forcing him to lay off ten officers, one lieutenant, three sergeant positions, and two dispatchers—nearly 20 percent of his department.
But several Methuen city councilors said the chief could stand to make other cuts, specifically, to his own paycheck.
“I think there are definitely cuts in there that could be made in order to save jobs,” City Councilor Joel Faretra said.
Salaries at the Methuen Police Department have long been a source of controversy.
The Methuen Police Superior Officers Association presented the city with a contract in 2018 that would have raised the salaries for some of the 26 sergeants, lieutenants and captains on the force by more than 100-percent.
Under the proposal, the average salary for a police captain would increase more than 180-percent from the prior contract to $432,295 per year.
In 2019, the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General said the contract was illegal and found former mayor Stephen Zanni and council members failed to comply with their own city rules and breached their fiduciary duties to residents while negotiating the approval of the superior officer’s union contract.
The contract is in arbitration and the police department continues to operate under the FY2017 budget, Solomon said.
“It’s been widely reported what the chief’s salary is at this point, closing in on $300,000 when all is said and done. Not sure, if he made some concessions to save some jobs. I would hope that he would,” Faretra said.
City Councilor-at-Large D.J. Beauregard had more pointed remarks for the chief. “While 19% of the Methuen Police Department receives pink slips, the chief of that department is still one of the highest-paid chiefs in the nation, receiving $335,063 in compensation over the course of a recent 12-month period. Something is wrong with this picture,” Beauregard wrote in an email to Boston 25.
Councilor Allison Saffie described the department’s budget as “top-heavy.” “We need to rethink and rework deals moving forward so that layoffs do not go directly to the patrolmen and front line,” Saffie wrote in an email.
“Logistically it makes sense to keep more patrolmen at work by laying off a “higher-up” who makes 2-3x the pay of one patrolman. No calculator is needed to do the math on that one,” she wrote.
Solomon said the criticism aimed towards him and his salary are politically motived.
“My answer to them is our city councilors have a personal agenda, a political personal agenda specifically with me, and with some of my members. They can answer to that at another time but I’m not going to dignify their comments with any other further response,” Solomon said.
Budget hearings in Methuen continue next week.
The officers and supervisors who received their notice Wednesday will officially be out of a job July 31.
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