State orders Tyngsboro to release records on animal control officer’s racially insensitive posts

The Sun and a former selectman both appealed for documents' release

Tyngsboro Animal Control Officer Dave Robson, center, speaks with former selectman Warren Allgrove while holding signs outside the polls last year. Sun file photo
Tyngsboro Animal Control Officer Dave Robson, center, speaks with former selectman Warren Allgrove while holding signs outside the polls last year. Sun file photo
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TYNGSBORO – The Public Records Division of the Secretary of State’s Office ordered the Town of Tyngsboro to release previously withheld records regarding racially-charged Facebook posts made by Animal Control Officer Dave Robson, whose son is running for re-election as a selectman in June.

Both The Sun and former Tyngsboro Selectman Robert Jackson filed public records requests late last year for documents connected to the selectmen’s 3-1 vote, in an Oct. 29 executive session, to reinstate Robson to his position as animal control officer.

Robson was on administrative leave pending an investigation into racially-charged Facebook posts he made, including a post that said “Shoot the protesters” in reference to Black Lives Matter protests that followed the George Floyd killing.

The town rejected the requests, saying the town considered records of the disciplinary proceedings — in which Police Chief Richard Howe recommended that Robson be fired — to be personnel records that are exempt from release, and not internal affairs records that would be subject to release under previous Supreme Judicial Court rulings.

The town argued that even though the animal control officer reports to Chief Howe, the position is not a sworn law enforcement position, and therefore any investigation was not an internal affairs investigation.

Both The Sun and Jackson appealed the denial, and on Monday Supervisor of Public Records Rebecca Murray ruled in Jackson’s favor, which settled the issue at hand in both appeals, making the records public and ordering the town to release the records within 10 business days. Murray did allow the town to make redactions “where appropriate” due to privacy concerns.

“This exemption requires a balancing test which provides that where the public interest in obtaining the requested information substantially outweighs the seriousness of any invasion of privacy, the private interest in preventing disclosure must yield… The public has a recognized interest in knowing whether public servants are carrying out their duties in a law abiding and efficient manner,” Murray wrote in her decision, citing case law. “…The Town has not met its burden to withhold the requested records in their entirety…”

Town Administrator Matt Hanson said selectmen will be meeting with the town’s attorneys from Mead, Talerman and Costa, and that Hanson expects town counsel will redact some personal information from the reports and then release them within the 10 business-day time period set by the Public Records Division.

While it was officially the Police Department that denied the records request at the advice of town counsel, Howe has said he supports releasing the reports in the interest of transparency.

The decision comes as the Tyngsboro town election is just over a month away, with Robson’s son, David Robson Jr., running for re-election to the Board of Selectmen.

Robson faces three challengers for two open seats on the board, but with Selectman Steve Nocco not seeking re-election, Robson Jr. is the only incumbent on the ballot in the four-way race. The other candidates for the two seats are Eric Eldridge, of 98 Clover Hill Circle; Katerina Kalambokis, of 29 Virginia Road; and former Finance Committee member Ken Pappas.

Robson Jr. recused himself from the vote regarding his father in October. Nocco, along with Selectmen Richard Reault and Hillary Wennerstrom voted to reinstate Robson Sr., with Selectman Ron Keohane voting against. Wennerstrom and Keohane were both re-elected last year.

Reault and Wennerstrom were livid when The Sun ran a story about the 3-1 decision, saying it was made in executive session and therefore someone leaked the information to the press.

The trio of selectmen even convened a meeting, with Reault in the chairman’s seat, during which Howe was in the hot-seat, as selectmen believed he was the leak.

On a cold, rainy night late last fall, the meeting was convened in open session, as Howe requested. Dozens of residents stood outside in the rain protesting on Howe’s behalf. The meeting ended without any resolution.

Supervisor of Public Records Rebecca Murray’s decision can be viewed below.

Click to access spr210704.pdf