TEWKSBURY — Tensions came to a head last week as the Tewksbury Republican Town Committee clashed with the Board of Selectmen over the issue of police support.
At the board’s Sept. 29 virtual meeting, chairman Jay Kelly announced he had received a note asking the board to adopt a resolution drafted by the TRTC in support of the Tewksbury Police Department.
Kelly explained that while the request had not been submitted as a formal business item, he was exercising his discretion as chair to discuss it with the board. Kelly opened his remarks by speaking about the retirement of Lieutenant Thomas Casey, a member of the TPD since 1999; he praised Casey for his work within the department, on the TPD honor guard, and with the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC).
Members lauded the town’s public service departments for their work in the community.
“We continue to do what we’ve always done,” said member Mark Kratman, “(which is) support them, praise them, and thank them for their duty.”
Member Jayne Wellman noted several community programs and events the police department has taken the lead on, including National Night Out, the annual bike rodeo, and lighting the town common for National Substance Abuse Prevention Month and numerous other recognitions.
Member Brian Dick praised Ryan Columbus, the new police chief, for his excellent work, and mentioned a recent viral instance of a TPD officer removing a cup stuck on a skunk’s head in the Oakdale Plaza parking lot.
“I don’t have to put my name on anything like that,” he said, “they’re number one in my heart.”
Member Anne Marie Stronach praised all departments in the town for working hard together through the pandemic.
“If we don’t show (our appreciation) enough and people think we need to put our name to it, we need to take a look at doing a better job of that,” she said, thanking the chiefs for their communication.
On Oct. 7, the Tewksbury Republican Town Committee issued a press release titled “Tewksbury Board of Selectman [sic] Say ‘NO’ to Tewksbury GOP Resolution Supporting Our Police.”
TRTC chair Ruth Chou wrote, “The Board of Selectmen unanimously decided against adopting the resolution in support of the Tewksbury Police Department.”
In urging the board to adopt the draft resolution, Chou explained, “Police officers around the country are being subjected to verbal and physical assault, political actions to defund police departments and take away their qualified immunity, putting them and the community at greater risk... The TRTC is very disappointed by the actions of the Board of Selectmen. Police officers are under attack across the nation — it is not DPW workers or Librarians being targeted in the streets. It is our police that needs [sic] a show of support now more than ever.”
In responding to the press release, Kelly said he felt the meeting had been mischaracterized and invited residents to view the meeting for themselves (available at youtube.com/TewksburyTV).
He also noted that new business is not typically open to public discussion unless part of a public hearing, but regardless, no one — from the TRTC or the community — called in to comment during the residents section of the meeting or while the board was discussing the issue.
“If you looked at that title (of the press release), it’s being blown out of proportion,” he said, adding that the board did not vote either way on any resolution.
Kelly cited a strong response from residents and local police officers in support of the board and public safety departments.
“One of the most wonderful things about our community is that it’s safe and friendly... it all starts from the top.”
He also asserted his appreciation for public safety officers, adding that his two brothers are in law enforcement.
“I respect the profession... I don’t have to sign anything to show unequivocal support,” he said. “(Residents) know where I stand.”
Wellman also reiterated her position: “The women and men of our Police Department, along with all our public safety employees, do an outstanding job every day keeping our community safe,” she said. “Suggesting the Board of Selectmen doesn’t support our Police Department just because we didn’t support the Tewksbury GOP resolution is a specious argument emblematic of the divisiveness too common in politics today.
“There’s a reason the board and local government are non-partisan, as Ms. Chou should know. In my experience, the board in general and the members individually demonstrate support of the police, fire, and other town departments with actions, not proclamations.
“Ms Chou and the TRTC seem to be sowing division where none exists and fabricating controversy for partisan purposes rather than the best interests of the community.”