AYER — Acting on the recommendation of police Chief Richard Rizzo, the Board of Selectmen has censured Selectman Frank Maxant for distributing a pair of letters that are critical of the Ayer Police Department.
In addition to the public rebuke, the board charged Maxant with violating its policies with what was termed unilateral efforts to influence the chief. Conversely, Rizzo and department officers were given a vote of confidence by the board.
The actions came after Rizzo presented Maxant’s letters to the board on July 10.
The missives were distributed to an address list that included the Attorney General and the Commissioner for Social Services, said Rizzo. One letter, written on May 2, advised those offices to give “no credibility at all” to the Ayer PD’s information on local woman Kellie Mansfield.
The follow-up, written on June 11, stated Mansfield was attempting to help some neighborhood kids who were complaining of harassment by the Ayer PD and that Maxant was looking to shield her from “revenge” by the department.
Rizzo has butted heads with Maxant over similar allegations over the past couple of years, and he termed this incident part of that trend.
“Basically it was just more of what Mr. Maxant has been doing making unfounded, unsubstantiated and un-looked-into allegations,” said Rizzo.
Maxant was also faulted for using his title as selectman on both letters; an act Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan said was done only to add credibility to unfounded allegations. Board Chairman Gary Luca agreed there was an issue there.
“It’s almost like you need a disclaimer at the end of your letter saying these are your views, not the view of the Ayer Board of Selectmen,” he said.
Maxant was also criticized for continuing to pursue the issue after the board showed no support for it on several occasions.
In his defense, Maxant said selectmen are charged with oversight of the Police Department and that he’s the only board member honoring that obligation. He spoke of a rising chorus of voices complaining about the department’s performance, which led to him investigating and starting on this course.
“I was driven unavoidably to the conclusion that there’s room for improvement,” he said. “I’ve been trying to lead the effort to have that improvement.”
Rizzo responded that allegations like the ones forwarded by Maxant are taken seriously. He said the department has a clear-cut policy for handling complaints — one he said Maxant has eschewed in favor of “cheap shots.” Rizzo added that Mrs. Mansfield has never filed a formal complaint over the issues outlined by Maxant.
Maxant responded that they shouldn’t read too much into that.
“The chief’s claim here, that he has a satisfactory procedure for dealing with complaints, is not generally shared by those who’ve experienced it,” he said.
However, the board did not support Maxant’s point of view.
It was Sullivan who motioned for the censure. Though he described it as little more than public embarrassment for Maxant, Sullivan described it as the best available option.
“To not do a censure almost implies our board doesn’t care about what you’ve been doing and that’s certainly not the case, at least for myself,” he told Maxant.
Conley was the sole vote against censure, saying she didn’t think the board should effectively order Maxant to quit over the issue. Maxant recused himself from the vote.
Rizzo ended the discussion by terming Maxant’s behavior unprofessional and demoralizing for the department. Rizzo said he initially wanted to request that Maxant be recused from all further business involving the Police Department, but acknowledged that that wasn’t likely to happen.
Instead, he’s now planning to ignore Maxant and hope voters shut him up next spring.
“After listening to Mr. Maxant tonight, I’m sure there’s nothing anyone can do about his behavior,” Rizzo said. “I hope the voters in May will vote Mr. Maxant out of office. That’s my hope.”
Afterward, Maxant said he’s not backing down.
“I’m working with many people in the public to improve the performance of the Police Department,” he said. “I don’t expect to stop.”
Mansfield was not present at the meeting and efforts to locate her afterward for immediate comment were unsuccessful.