Perhaps the most egregious instance of Civil Service failure recently comes out of the Merrimack Valley city of Methuen.

Last Friday Civil Service Commissioner Paul Stein ordered the reinstatement of police Chief Joseph Solomon, who was fired by Mayor William Manzi in May 2008 for a variety of infractions including abusing the authority of his office, ethical violations and behaving in a manner unbecoming an officer.

Stein ludicrously argued that for his misbehavior Solomon deserved to be suspended without pay for a year. Who in the real world — particularly a community's chief law enforcement officer — gets suspended for a year but still keeps his job?

"I think the big loser here in the city of Methuen is going to be the taxpayer," City Council Vice Chairwoman Jeanne Pappalardo rightly noted in the wake of the decision.

Given the litany of charges, Manzi did the right thing in dismissing the chief. Stein's ruling, on the other hand, defied common sense.

Solomon's lack of leadership skills had thrown the department into turmoil. He was lax even in maintaining his own standard of proper police behavior. His personal locker at the station was found to contain a bag of marijuana, five knives, several pistols, booking photos, a crack pipe, a "bong" water pipe and other materials from past investigations. Keeping them there was a violation of department policy.

Solomon mismanaged federal grants received during his tenure, resulting in a U.S. Department of Justice order that Methuen pay back funds on two grants. The city paid back $23,000 on a homeland security grant and may be on the hook for $170,000 on another grant.

Solomon had also been the subject of a number of lawsuits. He himself had sued the city auditor and the City Council over a pay cut.

Allowing Solomon to continue as police chief would have hurt Methuen and Manzi was right to fire him.

Yet the effort to fire Solomon has already cost the city well over $100,000 in attorney's fees and other costs. Now the Civil Service Commission says Solomon — who was making $150,000 a year — is owed about 15 months of back pay. That's a huge hit for a city that, like many, is struggling with its budget.

And it's further evidence that Civil Service, like too many other state bodies and practices, too often serves those who work in the public's employ at the expense of those who pay the bills.

Trending Video

Recommended for you