Methuen City Council Urges Police Chief To Take Furlough Days

METHUEN, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — After voicing concerns over an "astronomical" salary for Methuen Chief of Police Joseph Solomon, the City Council is urging him to take unpaid furlough days to assist with the city's budgetary challenges.

In a letter sent to Chief Solomon on Friday, July 10, Council members said they were deeply troubled to receive a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that "takes police officers off our streets, which would ultimately make our community less safe."

On Wednesday, Chief Solomon announced he was cutting nearly 20 percent of the Methuen police force, due to budget issues from the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten officers, a lieutenant, three sergeant positions, and two dispatchers are due to leave the department on July 31st.

In the letter sent Friday, the Council told Chief Solomon he could also join "nearly every other Department head in the city," by agreeing to take ten furlough days, which would voluntarily reduce his own pay.

"Unfortunately, we were made aware of your decision not to join your fellow department heads in this collaborative effort," said the Council. "However, it is not too late to do the right thing by acting in the best interests of Methuen's residents and the patrol officers that keep them safe."

The City Council's letter to Solomon came amid an outcry from Council members over the Chief's salary, which is currently almost $25,000 per month.

Councilors said that puts him on track to make nearly $300,000 a year, not including a number of other benefits like longevity pay. Comparatively, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross' salary is around $250,000 a year.

While the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department made nearly $350,000 in 2018, he oversaw a department with more than 12,000 employees. The Eagle Tribune reports that Methuen's police department has 24 superior officers, roughly 70 patrolmen, and a handful of administrative positions.

According to City Councilor D.J. Beauregard, the salary makes Methuen's Chief of Police "one of most richly compensated police chiefs in the United States -- more than in Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City."

As the Eagle Tribune reports, news of Solomon's salary came to light during a recent discussion over the month-by-month breakdown of Methuen's budget as the city grapples with a $7 million shortfall.

"It's astronomical what [Solomon] walks away with every couple of months," said City Councilor Allison Saffie. "It's a pretty outrageous number. With all this talk of layoffs, it's pretty disturbing."

The Eagle Tribune said Mayor Perry has already taken a 10 percent pay cut, and all but one of the unions in the school department has agreed to 0 percent raises. Negotiations were also underway last week between Mayor Perry and municipal unions over pay freezes and concessions.

Methuen Police Department salaries have been under the spotlight several times over the last few years.

In 2019, the Massachusetts Inspector General released a report that found Methuen's former Mayor Stephen Zanni and the Methuen City Council "likely violated state laws, failed to comply with their own municipal rules, and breached their fiduciary duties to the residents of Methuen."

The report pointed to a Council-approved Superiors' Contract, which is the collective bargaining agreement for all sergeants, lieutenants and captains in the Methuen Police Department, and is currently under arbitration.

"If the City were to pay under the Superiors’ Contract, it would constitute a waste of public funds," said the report. "According to documentation provided by the City, one estimate of the financial impact of the Superiors’ Contract demonstrates that police captains would receive a one-time raise of up to 183.49 percent. This would result in an estimated average salary for captains of $432,295 per year, not including overtime and paid details."

At that salary, the Inspector General said Methuen’s police captains would earn significantly more than the Police Commissioners for Boston, Los Angeles and New York, the Superintendent of Police for Chicago and the Massachusetts State Police Colonel.

The Methuen City Council and the Mayor's office are currently in a legal dispute over whether the Council has the authority to cut certain items in the city's budget, which could include Solomon's pay.

So far there has been no comment from Chief Solomon.

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(Photo: Karyn Regal/WBZ NewsRadio)

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