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Employees, former employees and elected public officials to be questioned

Justice Department lawyers already setting up interviews on racism probe

By Josh Resnek

City Solicitor Colleen Mejia revealed Monday night that the Justice Department has either called or is about to question city employees and former city employees and will likely be questioning elected public officials in a racism probe now being headed by the US Attorney’s office.

Councilor Stephanie Smith said she had spoken with two people who indicated that Justice Department officials had reached out to them and required them to be interviewed in or within the next two weeks.

City Solicitor Colleen Mejia said it appeared and she believed that when all was said and done, no one was going to be hurt by the probe.

However, she added that it is impossible to know where the Justice Department is heading with the probe because they don’t reveal anything about it.

“The probe could disappear, or it could intensify into an investigation,” she said.

The city council’s Ways and Means Committee balked at transferring $250,000 into the legal department’s litigation fund – an amount expected to last through June in order to meet the rising cost of outside legal representation with the city’s lawyers, Greenberg Traurig.

Councilor Smith tabled a motion to pay an outstanding $98,000 bill to the law firm, seeking instead several answers to questions she and Councilor Darren Costa raised about the probe, and then pledging to pay the bill after receiving answers.

Smith wanted a letter detailing what exactly is going on with the probe from the US Attorney or from Greenberg Traurig.

Costa wanted an invoice and also sought insight into the law firm’s billing practices.

Costa said he has questions about what the money is being spent for. He said there is no comfort level in presenting details to the councilors. “Who is involved in this probe?” he asked Mejia.

“All elected officials and city employees and offices are subject to the inquiry,” the city solicitor answered. “All of us,” she added.

The council will convene the committee again in two weeks.

Greenburg Traurig has billed the city approximately $500,000 for billable hours representing the city from the US Attorney’s probe on racism and discrimination in Everett. The $250,000, including the $98,000 now owed, is expected to go to the law firm.

That will make $750,000 likely paid to the law firm by June.

Mejia said legal expenses had been running at $50,000 a month on average.

“It is hard to get comfortable making an appropriation for something I don’t understand,” Costa said.

“I have concerns. I have to hold myself accountable to the people. You tell me I’m part of this but I don’t know how or why?” he said.

Mejia also noted that the School Department had hired its own lawyer and that $690,000 was apparently going to be spent for legal representation.

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