Boxborough board seeks FBI investigation
The Boxborough Select Board did something earlier this week you don’t see happen very often. It voted 3-2 to have the acting town manager ask the FBI’s public corruption unit to investigate payroll improprieties in the town’s police department.
The unusual request followed months of turmoil in the tiny town west of Concord prompted by allegations that employees of the police department were improperly receiving stipends for advanced degrees they had not earned as well as comp and holiday time to which they were not entitled.
Wes Fowlks, the Select Board member who made the motion to call in the FBI, said he believed Police Chief Warren 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 Monday at the Select Board meeting. “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 blames 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.
“I stand by my actions as both police chief and municipal department head,” he said.
The other two board members, John Markiewicz and Diana Lipari, sided with Fowlks. Lipari said one officer improperly receiving an education stipend could be written off as a mistake, but four seemed like a bigger problem.
Markiewicz criticized Ryder’s handling of the situation. “I would have thought the chief would have taken some responsibility for the actions that occurred on his watch,” he said.
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