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Zoll asked to settle Boston police dispute

By Tom Dalton

SALEM - Samuel Zoll's retirement didn't last long.

Weeks after stepping down as chief justice of the Massachusetts District Court, the former Salem mayor was thrust back into the spotlight yesterday when Gov. Mitt Romney asked him to settle the bitter contract dispute between Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the city's police union before the Democratic National Convention.

"I have always felt an obligation to answer the call when asked by a governor to attempt to make a contribution," Zoll said in a phone interview shortly after being sworn in as chairman of the state's Joint Labor Management Committee.

During a brief interview last night, Zoll chose his words carefully. He said he has spoken with Romney in the past about the position, but got the call only yesterday to head the committee, a 14-member body which settles police and fire labor disputes across the state.

Zoll said he was sworn in at about 3:30 p.m. in the governor's office with only his wife, Marjorie, and a few of the governor's staff in attendance.

"I am honored to have been asked by Gov. Romney to serve as chairman ..." he said in a hurriedly prepared statement he read over the phone. "I understand the seriousness of the commission's responsibilities and will immediately begin to inform myself of all pending matters as well as introducing myself to my fellow members of the committee."

With this announcement, Zoll steps into the middle of a heated political dispute. The Boston police union, which has already disrupted construction at the convention site and deterred Sen. John Kerry from speaking to a gathering of U.S. mayors, is entering its third year of working without a contract.

Zoll's appointment came after Romney abruptly dismissed the acting chairman earlier yesterday after the committee ordered arbitration between the city and the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, which wouldn't have started until the eve of the convention.

"Picket lines cannot be a consideration during the Democratic National Convention by people who are sworn to protect the public," Romney said. "The focus of public safety must be exclusively on providing for the safety of our visitors and our citizens."

Romney said he wants Zoll to settle the dispute by the July 26 start of the convention, but is not telling him what to do. While Romney said he informed Zoll of his belief the dispute must be resolved before the convention, the governor stressed that he has not asked Zoll what his opinion is or what actions he might take.

In making the appointment, Romney called Zoll "an independent voice for reason, fairness and justice."

This is Zoll's fourth gubernatorial appointment. In 1976, Gov. Michael Dukakis named him chief justice, a position he held until June 18, when he stepped down at the mandatory retirement age of 70 as the longest-serving chief justice in state history.

Zoll was Salem mayor from 1970 to 1973, and is also a former city councilor and state representative.

Staff writer Tom Dalton can be reached at (978) 338-2523 or by e-mail at tdalton

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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