Hingham spends $40,000 tracking anonymous letter
Town employee steps forward and says he wrote the document
AN EMPLOYEE OF THE TOWN OF HINGHAM stepped forward this week to say he wrote an anonymous letter mailed to the three members of the Board of Selectmen earlier this year criticizing the work histories of two candidates for police chief. The employee said he decided to come forward because he believed a $40,000 town investigation into who wrote the letter was about to finger the wrong person.
Matt Hersey, a heavy equipment operator in the Hingham Department of Public Works who is currently out on workmen’s compensation, said he wrote the letter in April to provide the selectmen with some information he felt they should have about the two of the four candidates seeking to replace retiring police chief Michael Peraino. The two candidates were then-lieutenant David Jones and deputy police chief Glenn Olsson, who was hired as chief shortly after the letter was sent.
Hersey said town officials never investigated the content of his letter, but instead took the unusual step of hiring private detectives to find out who sent it. Records and town officials indicate as much as $40,000 has been spent on the investigation, which included the hiring of private detectives and a company to do fingerprint work. According to Board of Selectmen minutes, a significant portion of the $40,000 came out of the town’s account for employee health insurance.
Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades confirmed the town received a letter from Hersey taking responsibility for the anonymous letter but said he hadn’t had a chance to review it yet with the Board of Selectmen. He said the town’s investigative report on the anonymous letter has been completed and will probably be discussed at an upcoming Board of Selectmen meeting. He declined to provide details on the report’s conclusions.
The story began in April, when the three members of the Board of Selectmen received the anonymous two-page letter at their home addresses. The letter focused primarily on Olsson, alleging he did snow plow work in January while payroll records showed he was working his regular eight-hour shift and was absent from work for several hours in March when he drove his adult daughter to work. The letter said Olsson also had a child car seat in the back of his “department take home car” in violation of Hingham vehicle policies. Olsson was also accused of driving his personal vehicle with an expired inspection sticker, ignoring complaints about the regional dispatch center, and handing out a disproportionate share of overtime work to a select group of unnamed officers.
The letter said Jones worked less than 50 percent of his assigned shifts in 2013 and 2014, even though he made $40,000 in overtime in 2014. The letter said the town incurred about $10,000 per year in extra costs having other officers fill in for Jones when he missed his assigned shifts.
“When all facts are kept in mind, neither of these two are the best choices for the next police chief for the town of Hingham,” the letter said. “Please also be advised that the current town administrator has been previously advised of many of these infractions.”
Alexiades, the town administrator, said Peraino, the former police chief, quickly determined the allegations contained in the letter had no merit. Alexiades said he didn’t know how Peraino reached that conclusion. One source said Peraino made his determination within hours of receiving a copy of the anonymous letter.
Alexiades said Peraino was troubled that the person who wrote the letter appeared to have access to internal police records. “Remember the police have access to criminal record files,” Alexiades said. “[Peraino] took that pretty seriously.”
The town administrator said there was concern that the letter was part of a concerted effort by a group of people to undermine the process of selecting the next police chief. So the Hingham Police Department, first under Peraino and then under Olsson, hired the private detective firm Matthews & Associates of Marshfield to find out who wrote the letter. About 25 people were interviewed and a separate firm was retained to lift fingerprints off the envelopes and letters sent to the selectmen.
Randy Sylvester, the superintendent of the Hingham Department of Public Works, sent a letter to Hersey in June saying he needed to meet with the private investigators. “I do want to stress that you are not the subject of potential wrongdoing in any way,” Sylvester said in the letter. “You may, however, bring a union representative with you if you so choose. I also want to stress that you are required to give complete and truthful answers to the questions asked by the investigators. Should you fail to answer the questions truthfully and completely, then you may be subject to discipline up to and including the possible termination of your employment.”
Hersey said he told the investigators he did not write the letter, but was told by them that his fingerprint was found on one of the envelopes. It’s unclear how the detectives would have been able to match the fingerprint on the envelope to Hersey. Hersey said the only time he was ever fingerprinted was at the Hingham Police Department when he applied for a handgun permit, suggesting the detectives matched the fingerprint submitted for the permit to the fingerprint on the envelope. “That seems like an abuse of private information,” Hersey said.
Hersey recently notified Hingham officials in writing that he wrote the letter. He said he stepped forward because he believed the investigation was targeting Sgt. Kris Phillips. Hersey said Phillips had nothing to do with the letter. Hersey said he gathered the information contained in the letter by talking to people inside and outside the police department. “Just by listening, I gathered all the information myself,” he said. “It’s all general knowledge.”
An attorney representing Phillips could not be reached for comment.
After 12 years working for the town, Hersey said he realizes he may be fired for writing the letter. He said town officials are using the letter as an excuse to get rid of employees they don’t like. “The new police chief is just another hatchet man for the town administrator,” he said.Everything in the letter was truthful, Hersey said. He said he viewed himself as a whistleblower, although the way he passed along the information to town officials did not follow policies and procedures outlined in the town’s whistleblower policy.
Chief Olsson said in a response to an email that he was out of state and would not be back until next week. He forwarded the query from CommonWealth to Kevin Feeley, an attorney working for the town, who could not be reached. Paul Healey, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, also couldn’t be reached for comment.