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.