Hingham contracted with an attorney to investigate a firefighter on Aug. 5, just weeks after firefighters refused to take down a ‘thin blue line’ flag from their trucks
HINGHAM — The town of Hingham paid an attorney $250 an hour to investigate a firefighter for an unspecified allegation of wrongdoing but continues to withhold the reason for the investigation, or the investigation itself, which appears to be commissioned in the wake of the “thin blue line” flag controversy.
Hingham firefighters said in July they wouldn’t comply with an order from the police and fire chiefs in late July to take “thin blue line” flags off firetrucks, which Fire Chief Stephen Murphy and former police chief Glenn Olsson said was a violation of town policy. Olsson abruptly retired on Aug. 3.
Just weeks after firefighters refused to take down the flags, the town contracted with attorney Regina Ryan, on Aug. 5, to write a report into allegations of employee wrongdoing, according to a contract addressed to Fire Chief Stephen Murphy and signed by Town Administrator Tom Mayo.
According to an invoice, she charged the town $5,725. Of that, 22 hours was for the preparation of the report and $225 was for travel time.
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The contract was provided to Hingham resident Daniel Nardo after he filed an appeal with the secretary of the commonwealth. Although The Patriot Ledger also filed multiple requests for the contract, and won an appeal, Hingham has not provided the contract, invoice and other related documents.
The town previously withheld the contract claiming that it was covered by the law enforcement investigation exemption to the public records law, but was ordered to turn it over, twice, by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Town Manager Tom Mayo and Assistant Town Manager Michelle Monsegur did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the contract and on their withholding of it.
Although Ryan is an attorney, the contract says her report would not be covered by attorney-client privilege.
The firefighters union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
First Amendment attorney Jeff Pyle said the investigation report is likely covered by the exemption to the state’s public records law for personnel files, as well as any complaints filed against fire department members.
The only exemption to that exemption is for investigations into police misconduct, but that standard has not been expanded to other emergency responders, he said.
However, if investigation is actually into more wide-spread conduct, that could not be used against a particularly employee, “there might be a different outcome.”
“As far as the public records law is concerned, the personnel exemption is quite broad and covers employee misconduct if they are not a police officer,” he said.
Reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite can be reached at [email protected]