Ex-assistant police chief appeals firing - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Ex-assistant police chief appeals firing

Board last chance for Harris to get her job back

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Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:03 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Embattled former Marana Assistant Police Chief Barbara Harris will have one more chance to get her job back after she argues her case before a review board this week.

Harris will go before Marana’s Personnel Action Review Board, which will make some sort of ruling regarding her firing in June.

“It’s not used often. It’s usually used in unique cases where there are certainly differences of opinion,” Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said, adding that the board could decide to give Harris her job back or reaffirm the town’s decision to fire her.

During the hearing, both sides will state their cases and even call witnesses.

“Depending on how the PARB board turns out, the town manager will deal with that,” said Marana’s new police chief, Terry Tometich.

Harris declined to comment until after the board makes a decision.

Currently, there is no assistant chief in Marana. Tometich recently restructured the department to allow for a police commander to run several operations.

On June 20, the town fired Harris after negotiations over a separation agreement broke down. Prior to that, the former assistant chief was placed on paid administrative leave for nearly three months.

The same day of the firing, Harris filed a gender discrimination complaint against the town, alleging a hostile work environment at the police department. The following week, two female police officers filed a similar gender discrimination complaint.

On Aug. 19, Harris’ complaint was dismissed, according to Jodi Horton, a spokeswoman representing Harris. The complaint has been re-filed.

Two surveys of the police department released nearly a year ago were critical of the department’s leadership.

In December 2007, a town-funded survey aimed to pinpoint the department’s problems, which included low morale, lack of leadership and poor communication.

“Even by her own account, the assistant chief does not consistently follow the chain of command,” according to the town-funded report.

The next month, the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, which oversees the state’s police unions, released its own survey of Marana officers, which was overtly critical of the former assistant chief.

“In the narrative comments, there were strong condemnations of top management personnel, in particular, Assistant Chief Barbara Harris,” according to the AZCOPS survey.

AZCOPS President Larry Lopez said that while Harris has the right to try to get her job back, she had a negative impact on the department.

“We stand by that survey,” Lopez. “We will stand by those findings.”

In March, the Marana Police Officers Association presented a vote of no confidence in Harris and then-chief Richard Vidaurri.

Sergeant Art Ross, president of the MPOA, said town’s termination of Harris was justified and that the association’s members have faith that it will be Chief Tometich running the department, should Harris get her job back.

“Basically our stance is the Marana Police Officers Association fully supports the town,” Ross said.

The MPOA is made up of about 65 sworn and civilian members of the Marana Police Department.

The PARB board is made up of five members — three town employees and two citizens — who serve for three and two years, respectively. The PARB represents the final arena for town employees to appeal hiring and firing decisions.

The last time the board was used came last April when Marana Police Officer Mario Williams appealed an unpaid suspension. The last time the board was used by police department employees appealing a firing came in March, when Officer John DeStefano and Dispatcher Tina Davis were successful in winning back their jobs.

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