Andover officials obviously believe they are serving themselves and former water treatment plant superintendent John Pollano well by refusing to offer any specifics on the circumstances of his retirement or an active criminal investigation into that department.

But they are not serving those they are sworn to serve — the public. It is local taxpayers who pay the bills not only for public employee salaries, but for their benefits, including pensions and lifetime health care. They deserve to know if their money is being spent wisely and justifiably.

Yet such stonewalling is, unfortunately, typical.

Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski announced six weeks ago, on June 23, an investigation by both local police at the Essex County district attorney's office into alleged employee misconduct at the water treatment plant. The Water Department is one of seven divisions of the Public Works Department. At the time, he said Pollano was "on vacation."

Several weeks later, on July 13, Stapczynski said Pollano had resigned with the intent to retire from his $97,694 job on June 30. In other words, he had been retired for two weeks by the time the manager announced it.

But that bit of detail deliberately left out much more important information. While Pollano had announced last November that he intended to retire within the next year, Stapczynski would not say if the investigation had hastened that retirement.

When did the investigation start? When did Pollano resign? Is he a target of the investigation? If so, why has he been allowed to retire? Did Pollano return to work for any of the eight days between June 22 when he was on vacation and June 30 when he retired?

None of those questions have been answered. Other officials, including public works Director Jack Petkus, say they have been instructed not to say anything.

This is not acceptable.

It will not compromise the investigation to say when Pollano resigned. If he is a target of the investigation, surely he knows it by now. Saying he is under investigation does not violate the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

And the refusal to answer legitimate questions will not make this go away. Indeed, in the minds of most residents, if Pollano was not under investigation, officials would have hastened to say so.

Their silence simply breeds rumors that may go far beyond reality. It is past time for it to end.

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