In September 2017, the Methuen City Council convened to pass a series of city contracts put forward by the administration of then Mayor Stephen Zanni.

The meeting was inauspicious — most members of the public who had come to give public testimony were there to upbraid the Council for its resistance to legal marijuana retailers in the city.

When public testimony had finished, the business of the day was announced with the perfunctory title, “Contracts.”

And as the bills came up, Council members voted with little discussion, including on one of the measures, a new three-year contract for Methuen’s superior police officers — the police chief, captains, lieutenants and sergeants.

The only discussion that preceded that vote, in fact, contained no obvious reference to the contract itself.

Instead, then Councilor and now Mayor James Jejuga asked for clarity on something called the “Rule of Necessity,” an obscure clause in the city’s laws that allowed Council members to vote despite a conflict of interest.

The Council had invoked that rule, and Jejuga asked the City Solicitor to confirm that the rule had been properly invoked. The answer, in so many words, was, “Yes.”

Then, in less than a minute, the Council unanimously approved the police superiors' contract — a contract which would threaten to bankrupt the city.

In July, city officials revealed that the new contract would mean massive salary hikes to more than $400,000 a year for police captains — more than the governor makes.

The news landed like a bomb, and in the weeks following the shocking announcement, angry residents flooded City Hall.

Methuen had become “the laughingstock of the state and possibly the nation, due to the mismanagement of our city,” noted one resident.

People began pointing fingers.

In heated Council meetings, Methuen Mayor Jejuga — who had voted for the contract as a Council member himself — let loose, insisting he and his colleagues had been assured by former Mayor Stephen Zanni that the contracts contained only modest raises.

“We trusted the then mayor [that] it was going to be good for the city,” Jejuga said at one meeting. “Well, God, were we, God was that a wrong statement. And to this day I still don't know how it happened.”

It soon became apparent to residents, only later to be confirmed by state officials, that there was yet more.

The Council had not invoked the “Rule of Necessity,” effectively a waiver from city law barring votes in the case of a conflict of interest, for nothing.

At least four of the nine councilors who passed the contract had had such conflicts of interest: two outgoing members had already accepted jobs in the police department. Two others had sons who were ranking police officers — including Jejuga, whose son had just been made a captain.

Jejuga has insisted that his son, a veteran of the city’s police force who had obtained a law degree, had fully earned the promotion.

Still, reactions ranged from shock to outright suspicion.

“Why is it that we go against our city charter?” demanded resident John Saba at one of the heated Council meetings in the aftermath of the contract revelations. “Why is it that two councilors from last year’s council have jobs in the city? Why is that allowed to happen?”

Within weeks, Jejuga announced a new deal with police management: The deal, generally referred to as the “Memorandum of Understanding,” still meant significant raises for police supervisors, but left salaries in the $100,000, and not the $400,000, range.

But trust has worn thin in Methuen.

City Council members, half of them newly-elected to the body, accused Jejuga of going behind their backs and cut nearly $2 million from the police budget. The cuts were meant to effectively undo the now-notorious police supervisors contract.

But Jejuga, who had been paying police supervisors higher-than-budgeted-for salaries as per his new deal with the union, announced that without those funds, the department budget would go bust and that he would be forced to lay off dozens of rank-and-file patrolmen — roughly half the city’s police force.

Pink slips went out to patrolmen in January.

Two weeks ago, with layoffs looming, the Council restored some but not all of the funds, prompting Jejuga to warn of further budgetary cuts.

But just prior to voting on the funding, the new Council also formally voted to reject Jejuga's deal with the police union, all but assuring a showdown — possibly a very costly one — between the city and the union.

Methuen Superior Officers President Greg Gallant says his union bargained in good faith.

The city had come to the bargaining table with legal representation and accounting staff, Gallant says, and the previous Council approved the contract by unanimous vote. And, Gallant says, the supervisors union had already shown a willingness to compromise by agreeing to the mayor’s new deal.

“As the city had issues with the new contract, we were willing to sit down,” Gallant told WGBH News.

Now, he says, they'll go to court. And there could yet be more revelations.

A few weeks ago, the Massachusetts Inspector General issued a formal letter to city officials, warning that city officials may have broken the law by passing the contract that started the present mess.

Among other things, the IG’s office questioned the Council’s invoking the “Rule of Necessity” in order to allow conflicted members to vote. The letter also accused Council members of passing the contract with no discussion of its costs or merits.

Meanwhile, various city officials and members of the public have alluded to open investigations by state officials, including to an alleged open investigation by the Inspector General. A spokesperson for that office declined to comment.

Newly elected Councilor Jennifer Finocchiaro says she welcomes investigations by state officials — indeed, that investigations by state agencies are overdue.

“Right now is a time in the city of Methuen that people want to blow the whistle on things that have happened,” Finocchiaro said.

“People are paying attention — that's one good thing that's come from all this,” she added. “I believe if we had had this when this all occurred it might not have ever occurred at all.”