After years of accusations and turbulence, retired Methuen police chief Joseph Solomon and former officer Sean Fountain were indicted on fraud, perjury and related charges.
Authorities said Solomon, as police chief, repeatedly used his position of authority to undermine the law for his own benefit, including the hiring of six part-time intermittent officers and then appointing them to full-time MPD roles.
Fountain was one of these hires, and he made false statements about his qualifications to be a police officer, according to the joint investigation results.
The indictments handed down “arise from Solomon’s deployment of part-time intermittent officers into full-time positions in circumvention of the civil service laws and his subsequent efforts to deceive others into believing that part-time intermittent officer Sean Fountain had graduated from a police academy when he had not,” authorities said.
The indictments against Fountain stem from his misrepresentations about his training credentials, including in his employment application and in a search warrant affidavit, and for the false and a forged training certificate he created to deceive others into believing that he was fit to serve as a police officer at any level, according to the statement.
Both men were arraigned in Salem Superior Court and released without bail. They are both due back in court in late January.
Motel under fire
Since October 2022, the state placed homeless and immigrant families in the Days Inn on Pelham Street, which has resulted in increased police calls, numerous building and health code violations and a lot of questions remaining from the City Council and School Committee.
As of September, the most recent data available, 177 adults and almost 200 children live at the hotel. The city has had to respond to 383 calls from move in to Sept. 28 of this year, Police Department documents reveal. Calls range from accidents to assault, harassment to animal control, the conditions of the rooms and more.
Following inspections on Sept. 18, inspectors found that 100 of the 113 rooms plus the main first floor bathroom had 347 violations, including issues with mold, rodents, and broken walls and tiles.
And yet Owner Ashok Patel, who refused to comment, is still receiving payments from the state.
The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, formerly known as the Department of Housing and Community Development, agreed to pay the Days Inn $165 per night, per room, including tax, through a contracted hotel broker, according to Kevin Connor, press secretary. The office transferred room rate payment responsibilities to Community Teamwork under a new contract in March 2023, Connor said.
Most recently, Mayor Neil Perry said in November that he would try to meet with the governor and the Office of Housing and Livable Communities.
Schools target literacy
The Methuen School District has focused heavily on literacy rates within its student body this school year, looking to bounce back from the gaps left from the pandemic.
Methuen students are experiencing an increase in literacy screening.
At the first assessment, numbers range between 34% of students in grade four reading at or above grade level and 50% in grade seven. The district’s goal is to have 80% of students in those grades reading at or above grade level by the end of the school year.
Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Lisa Golobski Twomey said the district is focused on “high quality instructional materials” in grades four through eight. There is also work to repurpose lessons in some ways for English Second Language instructions.
The district is asking for students to be assigned reading every night for 20 to 30 minutes. This is in addition to an hour a week that students are encouraged to work within the DreamBox program, an integrated reading intervention program, and Newsela, a literacy-focused edtech startup.
Mental health in the microscope
Anxiety, depression and other mental health illnesses have been on the rise since the onset of the pandemic. Methuen spent much of the year looking at how the city overall as well as specific programming in schools can help support residents.
Student anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress have dramatically decreased during the past two years, according to the school district’s Mental Health and Behavioral Services Director John Crocker.
Statistics from the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic showed Methuen Public School students expressing around 35% to 40% “prevalence” rates for anxiety, depression and trauma. There was a 25% decrease in students scoring in the “severe” range on at least one measure in fall 2023, compared to fall 2021, according to Crocker.
Methuen’s mental health task force has also laid out ideas for tackling mental health and addiction in the city, ranging from counseling support to hiring new personnel in both the police and fire departments.
This is in addition to the Police Department’s recent grants with the behavioral health company Front Line to fund a co-response clinician, a community support center as well as the creation of a civilian Community Response Team.
Cleaning up the Spicket
The city has put effort into environmental projects this year, ranging from developing plans for abandoned or under-utilized polluted brownfields to cleaning the Spicket River.
The city received $500,000 for a pollution assessment grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The grant will help assess polluted sites, develop cleanup plans and support outreach in the downtown and the Eastern Industrial Area.
The city started formal negotiations with SAI Group, based in Salem, N.H., on the sale of 54 Osgood St. to construct residential and retail space. The plot was once the location of a plating company, Precise Circuit Tech. The area was destroyed in a fire and has remained vacant and blighted ever since.
Cleanup also extends to the Spicket River. Methuen and Lawrence worked with the Merrimack River Watershed Council to determine the levels of phosphorus in the river, as well as to pinpoint the bacteria that are negatively impacting the water’s health.
The Spicket River has made it onto the “impaired water bodies” list in Massachusetts, so work like this is imperative, according to Matthew Craney, water resource project manager.
Organizations like the Clean River Project worked with volunteer groups to beautify the area.
Follow Monica on Twitter at @MonicaSager3