Fired Provincetown chief’s contracts bucked legal advice

By KC Meyers | Cape Cod Times

PROVINCETOWN — Former Town Manager Sharon Lynn went against town counsel’s advice and granted generous contracts to Police Chief Jeff Jaran in 2008 and 2011 that could end up costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a series of emails released by the Board of Selectmen.

Jaran was fired in December 2013 for urging his staff to support Selectman Austin Knight, whom he viewed as a pro-police candidate, in that year’s town election. He also instructed a lieutenant to get campaign signs from Knight’s garage so they could be distributed at the police station to his staff. An independent investigator and an arbitration panel found Jaran’s campaigning violated local, state and federal laws.

The campaigning came in the wake of a town meeting vote defeating an article that sought to replace or renovate the aging police station.

Jaran appealed the termination, and an arbitration panel found last week that he should have been suspended without pay for a year but not fired. The panel ordered the town to pay Jaran for 13 months remaining on his five-year contract, as well as a few additional months of back pay. His annual salary was about $127,000 in 2013. The town also must pay Jaran’s legal fees, which come to at least $90,000, according to his attorney, Andrew Gambaccini. The town’s own legal expenses have come to about $45,000 for the arbitration, said Dan Hoort, director of municipal finance.

“The award announces an enormous bill that now is to be paid by the town,” Gambaccini said in a prepared statement. “The town officials who were involved in this scheme have absolutely no one to blame but themselves.”

The Provincetown selectmen met in a closed-door session Tuesday to discuss legal strategies going forward.

They also issued a statement blaming the outcome of the arbitration in part on contracts that Lynn offered Jaran, despite contrary advice from town counsel.

Michele Randazzo, of the law firm of Kopelman & Paige, emailed Lynn in May 2008, advising that she not include an arbitration clause in Jaran’s initial three-year contract. The clause allowed Jaran to appeal a discipline or dismissal through a three-person arbitration panel and possibly be entitled to legal fee reimbursements and back pay.

Randazzo wrote that some sections of the contract addressing discipline would be “unworkable, extremely costly to the town and potentially provide to the chief rights — and damages — that he would not otherwise be entitled to under the law.”

The arbitration clause is standard language included in police chief contracts across Massachusetts, according to Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

“We understand police often seek that language and we don’t advise it,” Randazzo said Wednesday.

Lynn included the provisions in that contract anyway. She also included them in his 2011 contract, which was extended to five years, although Randazzo advised her to stick with a three-year contract at a maximum.

Hoort said if Lynn had offered Jaran only a three-year pact, he would have had only five months left on his contract at the time he was terminated.

Lynn took a job in December 2013 as city manager of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

When contacted Wednesday and asked why she included the arbitration clause and gave Jaran a five-year contract against the advice of town counsel, she said, “I thought I was doing what was best for the town.

“Jeff was a good police chief. I’ll stand by that. He made some wrong choices. But he was a good police chief.”

In 2011, the climate in town was different, she said. Hot-button topics such as a new police station had not come up and so at the time offering a five-year contract seemed like the best thing for the town, she said.

The arbitration panel’s 47-page decision notes that during its investigation Lynn testified that she considered Jaran a “good friend … like a family member.”

Jaran’s attorney said he was contemplating the next move after the arbitrators’ findings.

“Chief Jaran is now armed with significant basis to bring a lawsuit against those persons who were responsible for the nightmare that he has had to endure until this decision was issued,” Gambaccini said.