Boxborough police chief placed on paid leave

Select Board refers questions to FBI

THE BOXBOROUGH SELECT BOARD placed Police Chief Warren Ryder on paid administrative leave Tuesday. No explanation was given, but the board had previously asked the FBI to investigate  allegations that members of the Police Department had received stipends for advanced degrees they had not earned as well as comp and holiday time to which they were not entitled.

Carter Terenzini, Boxborough’s interim town administrator, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon confirming Ryder had been placed on leave and said the decision by the Select Board was unanimous and “made with deep regret out of a belief that it was in the best interest of the town and the department.”

He declined to provide any details.

The Select Board met Monday night and spent considerable time in executive session discussing the situation. Afterwards, the board made no announcement about a decision.

At the Select Board meeting, Terenzini was asked by a member of the public about the police chief’s situation. Terenzini said the matter had been referred to the FBI. He said the agency instructed the town not to comment on the situation and refer all questions to the FBI’s public corruption unit.

In October, the Select Board voted 3-2 to have Terenzini ask the FBI to investigate. Wes Fowlks, the Select Board member who made the motion to call in the FBI, said he believed Ryder when he said no wrongdoing had been committed. But he said the town was so divided over the controversy that an outside investigation was required.

“While it does seem fairly extreme, I think it’s reasonable,” he said. “I don’t know of any better way to restore public trust in the police department.”

In a presentation to the Select Board prior to the vote, Ryder said he discovered an employee was improperly receiving an educational stipend in December 2020, long before anyone was raising concerns about payroll issues at the department. He said the employee came to him with proof he had just obtained his master’s degree. After approving the educational stipend, Ryder said he discovered the employee was already receiving the extra money in his paycheck. A check of records revealed that a total of four employees were receiving education stipends inappropriately.

Ryder said he immediately instituted changes to prevent such mistakes from happening again and to collect the money paid out over the previous year.

“The cause of the error is not known but indications point to human administrative error,” the police department said in a statement. “As a result of this, Chief Ryder, in consultation with other police chiefs in Middlesex County, has modified the department’s payroll system. All adjustments to pay rate and entitlements will now require the signature of the chief of police, the employee, and a senior official in the town of Boxborough before it can be entered into the system. The Boxborough Police Department deeply regrets the matter and the overpayment of public employees.”

As for the comp and holiday time issues, Ryder said there was either nothing to them or they were caused by software glitches that have been fixed.

Ryder blamed the furor over the payroll issues on a former administrative assistant who handled bookkeeping for the police department. Ryder said the woman, who he called the complainant in his presentation to the Select Board, was disciplined and ultimately dismissed from her job for “racially insensitive social media postings.”

“This employee who willingly accepted discipline and ultimately dismissal now appears to be dissatisfied with the outcome of this and turned this into a very personal and public battle with the help of a social media poster,” he said. He indicated documents were stolen from the police department and an email was forged.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“I stand by my actions as both police chief and municipal department head,” he said.

Content from an earlier CommonWealth story was included in this report.