Editorial : Clumsy
Leave aside for the moment the question of whether Tisbury police officer Kelly R. Kershaw's complaints about her treatment by her superiors in the town police department and by town officials have merit. Tisbury residents nevertheless need have no doubt that the public response by town and police leaders to news of the officer's allegations has been conclusively ham-handed.
The town, its police leadership, and police Sgt. Timothy Stobie, all named in the complaint, got news of Ms. Kershaw's application to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on April 28. Ms. Kershaw alleges that in addition to sexual harassment by Sgt. Stobie, she was subject to a pattern of harassment and management behavior not common to male officers. And, she charges that the police chief and the town administrator failed to review and address her complaints. The town says it's not true.
As is always the case in such matters, the complainant is free to speak in detail about the public complaint, but the employer, namely the town, is not. Still, because these are serious charges, leveled at elected and appointed officials whose behavior prior to the complaint's being filed and their management of the town's response to the allegations will have consequences - and perhaps expensive ones - for town officers, employees, taxpayers and voters, an early and forthright response by the town would have been best.
Instead, the selectmen said nothing, released no statement - even a noncommittal one - when they learned of the complaint. No extensive deliberations would have been required for the selectmen to release a statement on April 29, saying, "Ms. Kershaw has filed a complaint that we think is without merit. We will cooperate without reservation with the investigation of the complaint."
The selectmen reviewed and approved a formal statement, but did not release it to anyone, preferring to hold the statement until someone - tipped to the news by, well, a news source - asked, something they certainly hoped would not happen.
Plumbing the deepest depths of that reservoir of clumsiness from which public officials seem to drink so deeply, what police Chief John Cashin wanted to know was, who told the press. Sgt. Stobie wanted to know the same thing. To guard against more information finding its way to the townspeople who employ and pay him, Chief Cashin prohibited members of the police department from speaking with reporters. In the aftermath of what he called a "leak in his department," the chief said he would come down hard on his officers, Times writer Janet Hefler reports. The chief added that all requests for information from the press would have to go through him.
The statement that the selectmen approved but didn't issue referred to the MCAD complaint as an "internal personnel matter," meaning, one supposes, that it is the business of town government rather than of town voters and taxpayers. Selectman Jeff Kristal thought the statement, prepared but not released, covered the matter.