Lisa Withrow submitted her resignation from the Salem Board of Selectmen, effective immediately, Thursday night.
The move came soon after Selectman Cathy Stacey motioned for a vote by the board Thursday to direct the town manager to provide any information provided to or taken by the Attorney General “with regard to any alleged wrongdoing by a member of this board.” The board voted 4-0 in favor, with Withrow absent.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Withrow and Selectman Bob Bryant were in communication with former deputy police chief Robert Morin last year while Morin was actively suing the town, according to publicly available email exchanges. Morin is also under criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.
In her resignation letter to the town, Withrow said there is a “fundamental disagreement” between herself, other board members and the town manager about how Salem’s town government functions.
“There has been misinformation, assumptions and accusations made that are flat out untrue. My strong belief is, it is critical that the people and businesses in Salem have a more transparent and professionally run local government,” Withrow said in her letter.
She said her time in office has been a “long, hard fought, uphill and exhausting five year battle” but she is now going to focus on her family, friends, health and business. Withrow owns Chaser’s Poker Room and Casino in Salem.
Withrow said the timing of her resignation will allow residents to vote for her replacement at the March 9 town election.
“It has been my honor to serve the people of Salem,” Withrow said.
“What we came to learn was far beyond a disagreement,” Selectmen Jim Keller said Friday. “Disagreements can generally be worked through. Violations of public trust cannot.”
The divisions on the board began with the 2018 police audit by Kroll Inc., which was commissioned by Town Manager Chris Dillon and resulted in a critical report that described a mismanaged internal affairs process, a payroll system that was abused by officers, including former Chief Paul Donovan, and a culture of insubordination toward town hall and intimidation of citizens who brought complaints against the department.
The Attorney General subsequently launched criminal probes into Donovan, Morin and two other high ranking officers: Capt. Michael Wagner and Sgt. Michael Verrocchi. Wagner and Verrocchi were each arrested for unrelated charges. The Attorney General’s Office recently announced it would not pursue charges against Donovan, but promised a report of its findings at the conclusion of its investigations and court proceedings.
Bryant declared his lack of confidence in Dillon in an email to the board in September, criticized the Attorney General’s investigations into Salem officers and said the Kroll Report “proved nothing.”
The friction on the board came to a head on Oct. 19, when Withrow initiated a vote in nonpublic session in an effort to fire Dillon for cause, citing his handling of the police audit, and that Dillon provided to the Attorney General’s Office what she called a “falsely assumptive narrative” about her, which she said was a retaliatory act for questioning Dillon.
That vote failed with only Withrow and Bryant voting in favor of firing Dillon.
In response to Right-to-Know requests, the town provided emails from Dillon to the Attorney General’s Office, saying he suspected Withrow of communicating with Morin, because she was asking the same questions in June that Morin’s attorney had asked a few days prior.
Bryant also sent an email to Morin in September to forward the questions Withrow asked.
Another email on Oct. 12 shows Morin sent Withrow a message to her town email address with forwarded documents and wrote “More docs to aid in your preparation.” Dillon said he interpreted that to mean Morin was assisting Withrow with her effort to fire Dillon a week later.
Withrow said she was just fielding concerns by a Salem resident, and both Withrow and Bryant said they did not share anything that wasn’t part of the public record. But the other board members said the exchanges appeared to be a conflict of interest and a violation of public trust, and called for further investigation.
“If there’s something out there, let’s find out what it is. If there is not, let’s move on,” Stacey said Friday, regarding her Thursday motion. “People in the community need to know what is going on.”
The vote was initiated at the end of a meeting to go over citizen warrant articles.
“Transparency, adherence to the law and ethical behavior are essential to good local government,” Chairman Mike Lyons said in a statement Friday. “I remain committed to releasing as much as possible that brings to light what has been our experience these two years.”
Keller said his patience has run out, and that it’s time to learn what the Attorney General’s Office has uncovered.
“We have to focus on working hard for the people of Salem, while also ensuring that we fully understand any actions taken by board members. The board needs to continue to review everything and share what we learn,” Keller said.
Bryant did not respond to a request for comment Friday.