By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- An order barring Robert Schuler from entering town-owned buildings without a police escort because of gun threats he made during a public meeting has been lifted after more than two years, according to a town official.
Schuler has not entered a town-owned building since the order was issued in May 2011, and as a member of both the Finance Committee and Sewer Commission, he has been able to participate only by conference call.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Schuler in June, arguing that Schuler's free-speech rights were being denied by the no-trespass order.
Frank Kolarik, who was Finance Committee chairman when Schuler made the comment, said he'd spoken with Schuler, who told him the news, and he couldn't be happier with the decision made by the Board of Selectmen, which issued the order.
"I questioned the selectmen about it, and what I have come to understand is they had an executive session where they made the decision, but when I asked what the basis was for lifting it now, they had no comment," Kolarik said Friday.
He said the ban was lifted in the beginning of June, before the Special Town Meeting that selectmen had called, and although Schuler could have attended as a member of the Finance Committee, he did not attend, Kolarik said.
"I was happy to hear the order had been lifted. I guess what I expected was for there to be some kind of official documentation or announcement saying the order had been lifted," he said. "Everything was out in the open when it was put in place but now that it has been rescinded, nobody is talking about it. I think I may go back to the selectmen and ask for some official notification."
The ACLU suit was filed against the town of Shirley, as well as Selectmen David Swain, Kendra Dumont and Andy Deveau separately.
In May 2011, Schuler, frustrated with the budget process, commented that he wanted to take out his gun and "start shooting."
The suit asserts that Schuler's rhetoric neither explains nor justifies banning him from public property. It also alleges the ban is in retaliation for his public criticisms of selectmen.
Schuler had apologized, but the order had stayed in place for two years. Selectmen told Schuler he needed to either take anger-management classes to have the order lifted or step down from his positions on the Finance Committee and the Sewer Commission.
The ACLU alleges that the town cannot order a volunteer to undergo anger-management classes.
Kolarik said the order should have been lifted a lot sooner.
"I figured it would go before a judge, who would issue some sort of injunction saying Bob could go into town buildings until the case was heard or something. Maybe the selectmen realized there was no way to win the case," he said. "All these years later, it's a little late as far as I'm concerned. It's been a shame for the Finance Committee and Bob. There's nothing wrong with Bob. There was nothing wrong with him when they issued that order as far as I'm concerned."
Chip Guercio, who serves on the Sewer Commission with Schuler, also said Friday he was pleased to hear of the decision, saying the decision was "better late than never."
Because of a change in the Open Meeting Law, Schuler has been able to participate in meetings remotely, but Guercio said it isn't the same.
"We're looking forward to having him physically in the meeting with us. I think it's best to have a normal scenario," he said.
Dumont and Swain did not return calls seeking comment. Deveau has since resigned from the board and has made plans to move to Florida.
Calls to Schuler and the ACLU went unanswered Friday.
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.