Summary: Ashland’s management interaction with the police force has encountered periods of great difficulty over the years. Police activities have cycled between periods of quiet, and periods of intransigence. Relations have been difficult with all recent Chiefs. During times of conflict, the Chiefs have instituted measures to reduce conflict. This history of cycling conflict with periods of quiet goes back to the 1970’s. Present use by the police force of media and lawsuits is an escalation over past usage of grievance procedures.
In 1973, when Chief Robert Gonfrade assumed command of the Ashland police department, the police department was small and was staffed by personnel who by and large were Ashland residents. In general, they were older than today’s police officers. They were vested town residents. Their children went to Ashland Schools. Many of their kids graduated, took jobs in the area and built their houses here.
The town of Ashland was much more “blue collar” than it is today. A large percent of the residents worked at very good paying jobs in the GM Assembly Plant in Framingham. They invested heavily in the school system and the schools of today are what they are because they were begun out of a commitment to and investments by these folks in education. Schools and education were how their children would rise above lower paying jobs.
In a similar way, they wanted a no nonsense environment in which to raise their kids. That environment had to be competent and understanding, an environment in which their kids could come to maturity, safely. Your proverbial “cop on the beat” was exemplified in Harry Marchetti, Bill Pond, and the other officers on the force.
Chief Gonfrade ascended to Chief as a result of his competence. However, the grave wound he incurred in a shootout at Workmen’s Circle, at which his partner Officer Charles Cadorette was killed, guaranteed his promotion. Bob was a good Chief for a long time. The force which he took over was small, and was “Ashland” in spirit and in action. People have said that it was a kinder, gentler time. It wasn’t and Gonfrade still carries the bullet scars to prove it. People just respected each other and acted in that way more back then. They could be tough. They could be intransigent. They were not vicious with each other.
Things began to change. Gonfrade was getting close to retirement, and the police force was becoming less “Ashland” and more “professional”. Police activities began to stress “them versus us” and “it is how it is”. In one year in the 1990’s, 68 grievances were filed against Chief Gonfrade. By law he had to respond to all of them quickly. It wasted time. The police force was trying to force Bob out thru the sheer number of baseless, and trivial charges. He stuck it out for a while, but eventually retired. Upon Gonfrade’s retirement, Sgt. Thomas Kinder became Chief for a short few years. While the grieveance procedures had made life hard for the Chief, reputations were not being ruined in the press and on the web as today.
In 1999, a new Chief came to Ashland. He was Roy Melnick. Chief Melnick had been a Captain on a larger force in NH. He brought spit, polish, an image, and prestige to the force, to the officers, and to the job. There was tranquility for a time.
In 2003, Chief Melnick asked for leave and took a temporary position working in post-war Bagdad, Iraq. He was a member of the Bremer-ProConsul government working on Bernie Kerik’s, the ex-NY City Police Commissioner, staff. Melnick’s task was to compile procedures into a manual by which Iraq’s reconstituted state police force would operate.
Chief Melnick returned to Ashland in late 2003 to a department which had grown lax and had become accustomed to doing things more or less as they wished. He instituted corrective policies. In addition Chief Melnick issued two warning statements. One was about the corruption he had encountered in Iraq, and a second was about a specific appointee to the Iraqi UN commission. This appointee was a “very bad guy” in Melnick’s words and was someone to watch out for should he show up.
The Ashland force rebelled at his policies and began protest actions which had been mostly in abeyance in the post-Gonfrade/Kinder period. But they carried their actions further than before. Chief Melnick was mocked in the press, and in blogs, email and on the web. He was derided constantly, in particular for his Iraq experience and statements. Worst of all, his wife, who was Ashland’s Town Accountant at the time, also came under baseless attack. She finally left Ashland for the accountant’s job in Dedham, a bigger town at higher pay, to take stress off herself and the Chief. The attacks continued ceaselessly.
Eventually Chief Melnick’s appointment came up for consideration and the Selectmen that time (Monaco, Sammons, and Shuster) insured that the new town manager, Petrin, did not reappoint the Chief. Losing his job was not enough. The vitriol from the folks around the police and on the force itself saw to it that Chief Melnick was unable to get another post locally. Emails, web articles, blog posts, much of it truly awful stuff, followed Chief Melnick wherever he tried to go. Eventually he landed a Chief’s job in New Mexico and he is now head of a much larger force than Ashland’s small department.
Late 2000’s/ 2013
In 2010, similar police activities to those against Melnick intensified against Chief Rohmer. Chief Rohmer had hired an officer from Milford, Ed Pomponio, who had been dismissed there as one of the consequences of an affair with another officer’s spouse. He had been out of police work for three years.
This hire set off a wave criticism of the Chief within the police department that accelerated in intensity with time. It, too, was unceasing. The criticism increased in tempo as the Middlesex Daily News printed article after article, week after week. Contemporaneous with the articles, officers filed charges, police reports, and legal actions alleging a broad spectrum of improper activity. The blogs swung into action and they attacked not only the Chief, but his wife Stephanie just as they had attacked Melnick’s wife. Stephanie Rohmer was characterized in the blogs and emails in outrageously scurrilous terms.
Of the 144 charges/allegations filed against Rohmer, 143 were found to be without merit by an independent investigation run by Attorney Edward Doocey. He was commissioned to make three reports. His reports are now public and they are available for download in the section on this web site labeled Investigative Reports. Notwithstanding the findings, the attacks continued.
Defamatory action also was ongoing against Pomponio and another officer, Lt. Beaudoin, again via the press, the blogs, and the courts. It, too, was unceasing.
As the flood of actions from the force and its supporters increased in intensity, the Board of Selectmen (BoS) stepped in to resolve the conflict. There was major conflict between the Town Manager, Petrin, and the Board regarding the corrective action to take. Eventually the conflicts reached the point where relations had deteriorated badly. Petrin decided to leave Ashland. He eventually wound up in Burlington Mass. James Purcell, who had been Ashland Town Administrator Manager in the 1980’s, was appointed to be interim Town Manager until a permanent Manager could be named.
Coincident with Petrin’s departure, the two Selectmen who had disagreed the most with Petrin’s policies toward the police left the board and Monaco, Greaves, and Hebden joined the board. A major change in BoS outlook and policy was in the wind. Monaco was back. Another Chief was going.
In November, Colonel Anthony Sciavi was appointed as Town Manager “to be”. At the time Sciavi was on active duty as Air Force Base commander, Otis Air Force Base on the Cape. He could not immediately assume the Town Manger post. On March 27, 2013, he was appointed permanent Manager for Ashland.
Manager Sciavi’s first major act was to inform Chief Rohmer that he would not be reappointed to the post of Police Chief in Ashland. In the view of many, he was acting at the direction of the BoS. At the same time, the Board tried to distance itself from Sciavi claiming no influence or input in Sciavi’s decision.
As Rohmer was being placed on temporary duty, the announcement of an interim Police Chief was made. He was Chief Steven Daugherty who had Chief’s experience with the Wakefield Police Department.
Ashland will compose a search committee to find another police chief soon.
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