For Methuen police chief, a rich story

Top cop earns more than most big-city chiefs -- and says he deserves more 

IT SEEMS MORE like satire than reality, and that has Methuen leaders cringing. 

The Merrimack Valley city of 51,000 has become known as the place where “public sector employees are millionaires,” said City Councilor DJ Beauregard. This has “done tremendous damage to the reputation of the city of Methuen,” he said. 

But it’s not public sectors employees in general that are the focus of his ire. It’s all about one employee: the city’s lavishly paid police chief, who not only earns more than police commissioners in nearly every city in the US, but insists he is owed more. 

Last year, Joseph Solomon earned $326,707, more than the commissioners in Boston, New York, or Chicago. (The Globe reported that a survey of 2018 salaries among big-city chiefs showed only the commissioner in Los Angeles earning more than Solomon.) The sky-high pay seems tied to a 2017 contract, which the city’s former mayor who signed it told Globe reporter Andrea Estes he didn’t fully understand. 

So much for keeping a close watch on the public purse strings.  

If the mayor got duped, at least part of his defense seems to be that city councilors did too, since he tells the Globe that the City Council signed off on the contract. No one from the 2017 council is still in office. 

The zombie contract that is eating at the city’s coffers, but which no one can stop, has provisions that guarantee Solomon at least 2.6 times the pay of any patrol officer. The chief is actually contesting how his pay has been calculated and says the city is underpaying him by at least $50,000. 

While the eye-popping salary would seem to make the job more than a full-time obligation, the Globe reported last month that Solomon runs a private investigation company on the side that employs 62 people. 

Tensions over the prodigious payout seem to have boiled over because of fiscal pressure on the city budget. Solomon was the only department head who refused a recent request from current Mayor Neil Perry to take 10 unpaid furlough days as part of an effort to fill a $7 million budget hole. The city has had to lay off four police officers, including Methuen’s only black patrol officer, at a time of heightened concern about policing and race. 

Last night, the City Council approved, in a 8-0 vote, a motion of no confidence in the chief, charging that he has brought the reputation of the city and police department “into disrepute” and “placed his own financial interests ahead of the interests of Methuen taxpayers.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

But the vote was largely symbolic and has no force over the chief’s five-year contract, which has two years remaining, so the arresting police saga continues.