Fire Chief John Rose was suspended

Rose’s status surfaced during a finance committee meeting; MCAD complaint offers more allegations of sexual harassment.

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Town administrator Robert Whritenour speaks to Fire Chief John Rose before a Sept. 10 executive session. Rose is suspended, Whritenour confirmed. - Gabrielle Mannino

Updated 4 pm

While Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose was telling The Times he was on vacation, he was actually serving a suspension, Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour confirmed Monday.

Whritenour told The Times the subject arose at Thursday’s finance committee meeting. At that meeting he said he told committee members Rose was suspended. The information was given in order to explain why Rose might not be able to participate in a subcommittee related to the Ambulance Reserve Fund, Whritenour said. 

The confirmation of suspension comes around the same time the town released a settlement agreement last week from a sexual harassment complaint brought by former fire department office administrator Cynthia Hatt against Rose, paying her $97,500 through the town’s insurance company for dropping claims against the town while at the same admitting no fault by the town or the chief.

Rose was back at work Monday, but did not respond to messages left at the station or on his cell phone. 

Whritenour refused to offer any detail on Rose’s suspension, including specifics on the duration or when it went into effect, outside the context of the finance committee meeting he attended. He referred further inquiry to the board of selectmen. The selectmen are expected to make an announcement concerning Rose at their Jan. 14 meeting. 

Selectman Brian Packish, the board’s chairman, would not comment on Rose’s suspension. Instead, Packish said he was preparing potential records releases for review at the Jan. 14 meeting. 

“The board will issue a complete and detailed statement tomorrow following executive session,” Packish wrote in a text message.

Whritenour said the finance committee was uncomfortable with the topic of Rose’s suspension.

Committee chairman Bill Vrooman told The Times he asked for the comment to be stricken from the record. He said the committee felt notice of Rose’s suspension should come from the board of selectmen.

“It is true,” Vrooman said. “We felt that we didn’t want our minutes to notify the public of that situation, that it should come directly from the selectmen.”

Committee member Rich Weiss, who is also an EMT in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, said he was bothered by the vote to strike the comment from the record and that town officials were calling Rose’s suspension a vacation, saying he didn’t want to be part of a committee that strikes comments from the record of a public meeting.

“Striking it from the record doesn’t make us complicit with the lying that the town administrator and the town selectmen are currently doing, however it exposes us to the cancer of it all,” Weiss said.

At Thursday’s finance committee meeting, Whritenour told committee members the board of selectmen issued Rose a 21-day suspension, though it’s unclear when.

“To protect the town for public safety needs, he’s been serving it in one week increments over November, December, and January,” Whritenour said.

After discussion of the suspension, Vrooman made a motion to strike discussion of action against the chief from the meeting minutes.

“This is a personnel issue. It’s not a finance committee issue to determine or talk about this…I think it’s a good idea,” committee member Mike Taus said.

“It’s good that we know, but I don’t want to put it in the minutes,” Vrooman said.

The settlement comes as the fire department is at the center of a mysterious FBI investigation that will include members of the department going before a grand jury on Jan. 21. The federal probe also comes as the town agreed to pay a combined $37,535.07 in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements it allegedly overcharged in reimbursements.

MCAD complaint details harassment allegations

On Monday, The Times received a copy of Hatt’s Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint accusing Rose of discrimination and “relentlessly sexually harassing her and creating a hostile work environment.”

The complaint alleges that when Hatt refused Rose’s sexual advances, she was subjected to a series of adverse employment actions, relieved of duties, and denied comp time for overtime hours worked, all while Rose “routinely [made] inappropriate and unwanted comments about

her physical appearance.”

“The Chief also unilaterally granted himself a locker in the women’s locker room and started showering and changing in the women’s locker room twice a day (despite the availability of lockers in other locker rooms). This behavior, which was outrageous by any objective standard, made Ms. Hatt (and other OBFD employees) so uncomfortable that she no longer felt safe using the women’s locker room,” the complaint reads.

The complaint says that Hatt began a sexual relationship with Rose while she was in a “vulnerable physical and mental state,” that Rose would initiate sexual conduct in the workplace, and on several occasions would ask for “assistance” in the fire station’s basement. Once in the basement, the chief would make sexual advances toward Hatt.

A year after they began their relationship, Rose informed Hatt he was attempting to rebuild his marriage and wanted to end the relationship, but changed his mind after Hatt started dating another member of the department. When Hatt refused, Rose began sending her “unceasing, harassing text messages, and phone calls, and continued to sexually harass her.

“Making matters worse, the town condoned and enabled the Chief to an extraordinary extent,” the complaint reads, adding that the town turned a “blind-eye” to the chief, but investigated Hatt twice for alleged inappropriate workplace relationships.

The MCAD complaint was not investigated and was dismissed on Oct. 31 as one of the terms of the settlement Hatt reached with the town.

Updated to include details from the MCAD complaint and the audio recording from the finance committee meeting. – Ed.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Well, well, well… between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs we have a real Sodom and Gomorrah tale going on! Which town (city) will be spared the wrath?
    Just vile and disgusting!
    Time for regionalization and a clean slate across the boards and leadership.

  2. There is not much good that can be said about the town administrator and each select person. All are complicit in months of silence, denial, obfuscation, and deception. Each of them are stained by Rose’s behavior. Having a locker in the women’s locker room should have been enough to fire Rose. It wasn’t. A pox on Santoro, Packish, Barmakian, Whritenour and the whole lot.

    • I think you missed the point, why would a Chief need a locker in the women’s locker room when he has an entire office. Completely inappropriate

    • Why wouldn’t a woman use the women’s locker room, Mack? And why would the Chief use a women’s locker room. Do your boys not understand that that’s what doesn’t add up?

  3. ALL the selectmen present and previous who had knowledge of all this should all be responsible for the law suit she $$ WON $$! ALL those who condoned and enabled the Chief all while turning a “blind-eye” to his well know actions have to $$ PAY $$!!

  4. If he showered and changed in the front office of the firehouse, that might not go over very well!
    Also, since most firefighters are men, maybe there weren’t enough lockers in the men’s room, and a surplus in the women’s.
    Either way I’m not sure why a secretary needs to frequent the locker rooms when there’s a bathroom right there near her desk. And it’s strange little things like that which make me wonder if she is an reliable narrator.

    • Mack, did you read the article? Here’s a quote: “The Chief also unilaterally granted himself a locker in the women’s locker room and started showering and changing in the women’s locker room twice a day (despite the availability of lockers in other locker rooms).” Did you happen to gloss over that? You mention “strange little things” in your comment. It’s interesting you don’t find this behavior by Rose really strange, like BIGLY strange. At least the Chief can count on you and “the boys” to have his back in the locker room. Both Men’s and Women’s.

      • My user name is a phrase from a book I love, and it’s not meant to suggest that I speak for some faceless collective of men’s rights activists or whatever. In fact, I’m female. And while Chief Rose’s many supporters may not find themselves represented in these newspaper stories, there are indeed lots of us who understand that the selectpeople are better informed than the public on these issues, and have supported the chief based on that information.
        The MCAD complaint is patently ridiculous on its face, and I say that as a former employee of the OBFD. The locker room story sounds creepy, sure, but I’ve been in there a thousand times and it’s basically an entryway to a bathroom, right off a main hallway across from the classroom. It’s not the steamed-up tryst mill that you’d picture after reading the story.
        Likewise, the Chief Rose I’ve worked with does not in any way resemble the character in this complaint. The accuser reminds me of the enchanted mirror in the Snow Queen, which reflects only a distorted, ugly version of the world.
        As a feminist and a working woman, I’m usually the last person to disparage a purported victim of sexual harassment. But in this case, the real story is not being aired, and damage is being done.

        • Might as well admit you’ve got personal issues with Cindy Hatt. Don’t blame you but he’s certainly not an innocent party here.

        • Mack, thank you for presenting a different perspective. Just speaking in general, because I’m in the dark on this specific case, I do agree with the message that sometimes news stories fail to show all perspectives. There was another claim of misconduct on the Island that I was personally familiar with, and its public framing vs. what actually happened were very different. I have no knowledge of the OBFD outside of articles and comments, so it’s tough to get the full picture. You mentioned that the locker room is more of a bathroom. Is there a reason Rose would use the female locker room instead? Is it all one space? Thanks.

          • Aquinnah, let me start by saying that I’m appreciative of the reasoned, fair-minded tone of your comments, both here and in response to other articles. It’s a breath of fresh air.
            There are two separate locker rooms. The only one I’ve seen, the women’s, has a small antechamber with a few lockers, with a second door that opens onto the bathroom. I certainly never saw any men in there – actually, I don’t think I ever saw any women in there, since there are other, more convenient bathrooms – but my understanding is that a few men kept their things in the lockers out of necessity.
            Again, while I have no personal animosity for Mrs. Hatt, her stories of the chief’s behavior just do not match up with my observations. While clearly he has some poor character judgment, there’s no way he did this crazy stuff.

        • Thank you, Mack! 🙂 I appreciate your kindness and the helpful reply. That makes sense. I was picturing the station differently. Been trying to make an effort to hear all sides when it comes to ongoing stories, having
          definitely been guilty in the past of assuming stuff.

  5. It reassuring to see that transparency in all of Oak Bluffs public officials, public actions, is its most treasured value. Never would they undermine public trust nor fidelity to those they serve, to conceal anything (or strike from the records).

  6. I would just like the point out what a smear campaign this is. One article after the other barely adding any new information apart from the other articles written.. just using one headline after another to manipulate people into thinking all of this is going down, the Chief must be fired. Do they ever interview someone to comment on all the lives the Chief has saved or all the hard work and dedication he has put into his job? Never. They only interview ex employees with gripes and people who outwardly hate the Chief. How do we know that any of the accusations are even true if all charges were dropped? Where is the proof? Where is the other side of the story? And as someone else pointed out the women’s locker room was basically obsolete at the fire dept. no one used it, and the men’s locker room was completely full. The fact that the town gave this woman a dollar is most aggravating part of any of it. She was sleeping with a married man who worked at the department whilst his wife also worked there, just to point that out to those who missed that detail. I commend the selectman for being objective and trying to not listen to island gossip from the MV times to make extremely important decisions. They’re the ones with all the information from both sides and I trust they’re the only ones with the tools to make the best decision for the town.

    • You write “She was sleeping with a married man”. How about turning the sentence and writing “a married man was sleeping with her”? And he was her boss, the Chief. Which one should know better? Which one has power? She left. He should, too.

    • Wow, islander64, ignorance is bliss. By the way a fire chiefs job is to protect property and save lives. Let’s all give him a round of applause for doing his job! First of all this is not a smear campaign, this is karma. Many good EMTs/medics left that department solely because of his actions. They all had to start over somewhere else after leaving a job that many loved and should have been a career position. Secondly, do you know how many female employees did use the woman’s locker room? I can name three off the top of my head. And that’s three too many. I assume your are ok with a man walking into a woman’s restroom or a woman walking into a mans restroom. Islander64 you are obviously going to support this man no matter what the facts(not alternative facts) are. Overcharging Medicare and Medicaid, fbi investigations, grand jury’s, subpoenas, sexual discrimination lawsuits/settlements, reprimands by state for nepotism, union busting tactics and finally inappropriate sexual relations/advances with at least 3 female subordinates. If you don’t think for one second that there are emails and/or texts that will be coming out think again. What would be the excuse then??? Someone stole his phone and computer to frame him?? Islander 64 I understand your obvious loyalty to this man. You may possibly be great friends with him or even family. It would then be your responsibility to tell him to do the right and honorable thing and that is to resign immediately. Then you can be there for mental and emotional support for him all you want. But for the love of god, open your eyes, know right from wrong and try to join the rest of us in the world of reality.

      • Imnoislander… some of the accusations you have going on in your comment I refuse to get into it with you this will go on forever. For your sake I hope its all 100% true and able to be proved substantially in compliance with all MA laws on harassment, statue of limitations etc. etc. especially since it was just published in the newspaper that there was a settlement reached I’m sure the “accusations” will fly now. All I am saying is the MV times only interviews people who have horrible things to say about the Chief. Ex employees or ex husbands seeking information about settlement money. That is not journalistic integrity, that is biased and creating a bias narrative IN MY OPINION. I was told my comments wouldn’t be approved because I needed to “stick to facts” however you just made an allegation of “3 subordinate women” not based on facts. At least yet, I haven’t read that anywhere?? That seems fair and objective to me. I’m sure some employees who left oak bluffs were valued and missed and I can’t speak on behalf of the reasons they did so because I don’t have all the information. Imagine that? Not making assumptions, presumptions or comments on things because you know you don’t have all necessary information to make an objective comment on something?! I am a fan of all parties being held accountable for their actions and ALL SIDES to a story being published. That is my POINT. And I’m a fan of a persons entire character being looked at, not just two bad accusations published in a newspaper. You may say I’m on a path to defend, but you’re on a path to destroy. Someone’s merits, dedication, achievements, talent, love for their job all ABSOLUTELY deserve to be taken into consideration amongst the “claims” and “allegations” (or things that happened years ago). I respect your right to your opinion. I refuse to engage with you about anything further. Agree to disagree we’ll never reach a conclusion no matter what, it’s a waste of time on both ends.

        • There is an allegation contained in the MCAD complaint about other women. And we have given Chief Rose multiple opportunities to tell his side of the story and will continue to do so. And if you’re willing to publicly defend the chief, we’re all ears.

          • I’m sorry but his statement said “inappropriate sexual advances/ relations with 3 female subordinates.” Could you possibly direct me to where exactly that is stated in the above article? Perhaps I am missing it? And on the chance that I am not missing it, and that is not information released to the public in this article or elsewhere, I don’t know how this individual would be at liberty to discuss it or how they would be aware? Greatly appreciated if you could answered those questions for me. Because just saying that without context just seems a lot like libel, slander, defamation of character or something along those lines. Just an FYI the definition of “fact” is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” Does not seem like that is the case here, yet again.

          • I’m also sort of confused when this person is saying “don’t think for one second e-mails, text messages won’t be coming out etc”. I’m sorry, do they work for the Times? The FBI? The Town? The Union? Am I missing something? How do they know about this “factual” releasing of messages before the rest of us? And If they are in a position as such, how are they legally at liberty to discuss that beforehand in the MV times comment section? Appreciate you clearing this up for me.

          • Allegations of inappropriate text messages and phone calls are mentioned in the very story you’re commenting on. It’s fair to speculate that those could become public at some point. Tonight, the selectmen released executive session minutes that will likely lead to more requests for public records depending on what they disclose.

    • Well said. The fake news and demoncraps call it a “wrap up smear”. I wonder if after going out together for a year, how is it suddenly inappropriate for him to pursue resuming the relationship?

      Something isn’t right.

      Another prime example of the leftist police state lack of due process. We have seen them grossly attack many with guilt. Assassinate people’s character. Is the chief conservative?

  7. Hopefully sometime in the near future,the headline will read “Rose fired,Board of Selectmen resign”

  8. Oh I thought its ok for any gender to use any locker room or bathroom. I thought that is the new rule. That we dont define sex by X and Y and we allow it to be whatever one wants. Back in North Carolina days two years ago it was considered sexist and bigoted to be ”uncomfortable” when I man went into a girls bathroom. I dont get it.

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