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Peabody’s city solicitor to step down Sept. 1

PEABODY — City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski, who has held the post since 2012, will return to private practice in September, according to Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr.

It’s unclear why the mayor’s 59-year-old appointee is stepping down at this time. Smerczynski did not return calls seeking comment. The mayor declined a request for an interview. 

Sources said his resignation comes just days after last week’s City Council meeting when the city solicitor was criticized by City Councilors-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin and David Gravel on his handling of the Verizon Wireless lawsuit.

The Harvard University and Suffolk University Law School graduate may be best known for mounting what could be a losing battle against Verizon’s effort to build a 60-foot cell tower on Lynn Street. 

Federal law allows utilities to provide cellular service and limits the authority of cities and towns. Verizon has maintained the tower would fix coverage gaps in the region and they plan to add 5G, or fifth-generation cellular service for faster downloads. But the city has fought the proposal in court.

In March, Land Court Judge Jennifer Roberts sided with the telecommunications giant. 

“After more than four years and six proposed alternate sites that were rejected, the city’s denial of a permit prohibits the utility from providing cell service and violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996,” the associate justice wrote in her 16-page decision. 

Roberts ordered the City Council to grant a special permit or any other permit and “take all necessary actions to remove any further impediments to the construction of a proposed cell tower” at the site of Michael’s Limousine Co.

The city has appealed. 

Meanwhile, the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) is negotiating a compromise with Verizon. PMLP has proposed to install a series of one- to two-foot antennas mounted on the utility’s light poles that would be outfitted with fifth-generation cellular networks. 

If such a network of boxes was agreed upon, the cell tower would not be necessary. But the parties have been unable to come to financial terms.

Still, the mayor said his appointee has done his best to take on a powerful corporation.

“For five years, Mike Smerczynski fought an army of high-priced corporate lawyers bent on imposing Verizon’s will on the residents of South Peabody,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “His knowledge of municipal law is unmatched and his tenacity on behalf of Peabody has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

In addition, the mayor credited Smerczynski with playing a key role in his administration including doing the legal work for construction of a new middle school, revitalizing downtown and Centennial Park, the restoration of Crystal Lake, and bringing  RCN Corp., the New Jersey communications company, to offer an alternative to Comcast Corp.’s 40-year monopoly on cable TV and high-speed Internet service.

“Mike has been a true friend and trusted advisor for many years,” Bettencourt said. “We have been fortunate to have the benefits of his tremendous legal mind these past eight years.”

For now, Assistant City Solicitors Donald Conn and Adam Buckley will share the additional caseload. Smerczynski will remain available during the transition, the mayor added. 

Ward 1 City Councilor Jon Turco, a candidate for an at-large post, said for $100,000 a year, the city got a very good deal with Smerczynski on the job.

“I think he’s an incredible attorney and the city was lucky to have him,” he said. “He will be missed.” 

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

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