Scott Rohmer said last week that if he is elected to the Board of Selectmen he would have no problem working with the new town manager, Anthony Schiavi, who last month ended Rohmer’s career as Ashland’s police chief.
“We’re professionals,” Rohmer said after a candidates forum. “There’s checks and balances. I’m a professional person, that’s just the way I am.”
Rohmer said he decided to run for selectman within 24 hours after Schiavi, saying the department had lost the public’s trust, placed the chief on paid administrative leave and announced the town would not be renewing his contract, which expires in June. Rohmer had been an Ashland police officer for 28 years, including seven as chief.
“I’m all about working together and getting things done,” said Rohmer, citing his decades of public service in the community.
The move by Schiavi came after months of acrimony in the Police Department, fueled by a slew of charges and countercharges. Stephen Doherty, a retired police chief, is serving as the department’s interim chief.
Rohmer and the town, as well as some other police officers, are being sued in Norfolk Superior Court, and are also the subject of two workplace gender discrimination complaints filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed by two police officers who say Rohmer retaliated against them after they complained about misconduct in the department.
Rohmer has denied almost all the charges, but did admit to misusing department resources when he asked a subordinate to perform a forensic search of his wife’s laptop and cellphone.
During the candidates forum Tuesday night, Rohmer was vague on details but said events leading to his dismissal were “orchestrated, that was very embarrassing to our community.”
He declined to provide further information at the forum because he said the matter was under litigation, but added, “I’m looking forward to the truth coming out.”
Meanwhile, many Ashland residents have come to Rohmer’s defense.
A Facebook page, “I Support Chief Rohmer,” had garnered 609 “likes’’ as of late last week.
Last month, resident Margot Ellsworth formed the group Ashland Citizens Awareness Committee and began posting the results of an investigation conducted for the town last year by Edward C. Doocey, a Quincy lawyer.
Doocey was hired after the town manager at the time, John Petrin, received an 11-page complaint from several members of the police union and a lieutenant accusing Rohmer of numerous instances of wrongdoing in his professional and personal life.
Ashland Citizens Awareness Committee members Michael Campbell and Jon Fetherston, who are both former selectmen, praised Rohmer while expressing frustration that Doocey’s findings have been, they said, largely ignored by town officials.
“There’s a lot of shenanigans going on in Ashland,” Fetherston said.
Citing Doocey’s 62-page report, Fetherston added: “There were 144 charges brought against the former chief, 143 of them were found to be false. There’s been no accountability brought to the people who brought those false charges.”
Fetherston said he was “disgusted” that the current Board of Selectmen seemed to have disregarded the investigation.
“There were several people involved who fabricated stories who still have a job,” Campbell said. “They did it against one officer, a very well respected chief that we have. The fabrication of these stories, I think, led to his demise because it caused such an uproar in town.”
During last week’s forum, the two candidates vying with Rohmer for two seats on the Board of Selectmen in the May 21 election also trod lightly when the topic turned to the tumult within the Police Department.
In responding to a question from the event’s moderator, Mark Juitt, currently a member of the School Committee, said he would “prefer not to draw a conclusion,” but added that “we should support the information provided by the town manager.”
Incumbent Selectman Joe Magnani said he has been a member of the Police Department for decades, but was retiring this summer.
“Thirty-five years ago I put on that uniform with pride and distinction,” Magnani said, adding that he wouldn’t be able to feel that same sense of pride when he retired.
“I’m not happy,’’ he added. “I broke in Scott 28 years ago; I watched his entire career. I’m just heartbroken over this. I wish I could speak my piece.”
After the forum, Magnani said that while there was a division within the Police Department, “the guys and girls there are professionals and we’re going to do the job.”
As an active member of the Police Department, he said, he couldn’t comment on whether he agrees with the town manager’s decision against renewing Rohmer’s contract.
“Is there a healing process? Yes there is. It’s starting, and it’s going to take time,” he said.