SHIRLEY — The selectmen issued a “no trespass” order in early May against resident Robert Schuler that bars the Finance Committee member and Sewer Commissioner from the Town Offices and other town buildings.
Now, they want him to resign from both boards before they agree to rescind that order.
The action was taken after Schuler said at public meetings of the Sewer Commission and FinCom, respectively, that he might have to get out a gun and start shooting people.
In an atmosphere fraught with fear after terrorist attacks around the world and shootings in other parts of the country in which the victims were public officials, the selectmen felt they were justified to “err on the side of caution.”
Adding to the angst, Schuler owns registered guns that police took from his home after the incident was reported. His firearms license was suspended.
Schuler later characterized his “unfortunate” statement as hyperbole, expressing frustration at town officials’ failure to take action on a looming budget crisis.
The selectmen, however, considered Schuler’s statement a threat.
Monday night, at the written request of the Sewer Commission, they considered rescinding the order, but after some discussion decided not to. Instead, they asked CAO Dave Berry to draft a letter to Schuler stating that they will agree to lift the no-trespass order if he voluntarily resigns from the two boards.
Although no selectman was present when Shuler’s outbursts took place, they heard about what happened. Having said it first at the Sewer Commission meeting, Schuler repeated his controversial comment at a FinCom meeting that was filmed for Cable Access TV and broadcast on Channel 8.
At a subsequent FinCom meeting, Schuler addressed the issue. He acknowledged he’d made a serious mistake and apologized to fellow members, the selectmen and the public.
The meeting was not filmed that night, but a reporter was there. Clearly abashed and contrite, Schuler seemed to be waiting for a response to his apology from others at the table as he stood by his chair. Concluding that he was “not welcome,” he left the room. A police officer was standing by the door to escort him from the building.
Three months later, Schuler still can’t enter a municipal building without a police officer, including the Town Offices, Senior Center, Center Town Hall, Hazen Memorial Library or the schools. He can, however, attend an event at one of those sites if a police officer is present, with advance notice.
According to Police Chief J. Gregory Massak, Schuler’s movements may be restricted but his rights as a citizen are intact. For example, a police officer can accompany Schuler to the polls for voting, he said. And he can attend Town Meeting, where there is always a police officer present, usually the chief himself.
In practical terms, though, the No Trespass order prevents Schuler from participating in the business of the Sewer Commission as an elected official or the Finance Committee, to which he was appointed.
Selectmen Chairman David Swain read the Sewer Commission’s letter Monday night. In it, the commissioners called Schuler a ‘valuable long-term member” and said they wanted him back. They accepted Schuler’s “sincere apology ” without reservations, Swain said.
Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik said pretty much the same to him, Swain said.
Swain, who said he’s known Schuler for 12 years and previously served on the FinCom with him, recommended lifting the No Trespass order, with the caveat that he takes an anger management course. “He’s had the tendency to make off-the- cuff remarks, but without malicious intent,” he said of Schuler.
Now, Schuler “can’t go to meetings and this begins to infringe on his rights and responsibilities as a citizen,” Swain said.
But Dumont said she didn’t want the board to take this responsibility on itself. “In today’s environment, I’m not comfortable with this,” she said.
Selectman Andy Deveau opposed lifting the order on the basis of a “simple apology.”
“It seems easy to say that someone is a nice person,” he said. But the same might be said of anyone until the worst happens. Noting that it’s impossible to know what someone else is capable of, he pointed to incidents elsewhere in the country over the past year, such as shootings at a school committee meeting and the young man who opened fire at a public event, killing several people and seriously injuring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
More recently, there was an execution-style massacre on an island in Norway in which scores of young people were killed. The murders were apparently committed by one man who had a private arsenal of weapons and a socio-political ax to grind.
Applicable or not to the current situation in Shirley, Deveau’s point was well taken.
“It’s our job as selectmen to protect the citizens of the community,” he said. “I think the actions were appropriate.”
Massak agreed it was a good idea not to take any such incident lightly and in this instance not to rescind the no trespass order at present.
As requested, Berry agreed to draft a letter for the board to review then send it to Schuler.