Arbitration panel rules firing of Provincetown police chief ‘inappropriate’

An arbitration panel found former Provincetown Police Chief Jeff Jaran should only have been suspended without pay for a year, not fired, after he held a mandatory meeting at the police station during which he urged his staff to support Selectman Austin Knight in the May 2013 election.

By KC Meyers | Cape Cod Times

PROVINCETOWN — An arbitration panel has found that former Police Chief Jeff Jaran should not have been fired for inappropriately campaigning in a local election.

In the decision released Friday, the panel ruled that Jaran must be compensated for more than a year of lost salary and benefits plus at least $90,000 in legal fees.

The arbitrators further ruled that the chief should not be reinstated.

“This is tremendous vindication for the chief,” said Andrew Gambaccini, Jaran’s attorney.

He also told Lt. James Golden to retrieve campaign signs from Knight’s house and bring them to the police station for officers to take home and put in their yards.

Although this was a violation of state and federal laws regarding campaigning, it did not warrant firing, the arbitrators found.

Former Town Manager Sharon Lynn fired Jaran in 2013, after a series of controversial episodes involving the police chief.

Arbitrators ruled it was “unnecessary and inappropriate” for Jaran to have instructed his officers to collect names of witnesses at the Squealing Pig on election night in 2013 when Jaran became upset by an antipolice- themed song by N.W.A. played on the sound system.

The major issue in that 2013 election had been a new police station to replace the current building, a former funeral home that Jaran described as “dilapidated” and “a danger to police officers and the public,” according to the 47-page arbitration decision.

Jaran told his employees that Knight was pro-police and pro-new police station, and that the other candidates, Tom Donegan and Raphael Richter, were not.

“In such a politically charged environment, it was not difficult for Chief Jaran to advocate for McKnight (sic) who was a supporter of a new or refurbished police station, and the police department itself,” the decision stated. “Similarly, it was not such a leap for Chief Jaran to campaign against Donegan and Richter who were against a new or modernized police station and who were viewed as antipolice in general.”

Knight is misidentified as “McKnight” throughout the report.

The decision also described the personal relationship between Lynn, the former town manager, and Jaran. Lynn regarded Jaran as a close friend, and almost family member, the decision stated. In speaking privately with Jaran, Lynn made no secret of her dislike for Donegan, Richter and Selectman Erik Yingling, it stated.

The arbitrators wrote that Yingling once got Lynn so upset she vomited before a selectman’s meeting.

“While Ms. Lynn did not direct Chief Jaran to engage in his pro-McKnight (sic) campaign activities, she made it clear to him who she was not supporting,” the decision stated.

Hence, the arbitrators stated, by making her opinions on the candidates well known, it “encouraged” Jaran to work against Donegan and Richter and to support Knight.

Knight resigned his post as a selectman amid the controversy surrounding Jaran. Donegan, Yingling and Richter are all currently members of the Board of Selectmen. Jaran, 50, has moved to New Hampshire and says he is unemployed.

Jaran did not comment for this story and referred questions to his attorney.

Yingling called this decision “a bitter pill for all parties.”

But, he said, the fact that Lynn and Jaran have both “moved on” is good for the town.

“We lost the arbitration hearing” because the town manager created an environment where it was OK for Jaran to engage in political activities, Yingling said.

“I was responding to a chief and a police force that felt it was appropriate to put their fingers on the scale in an election,” Yingling said.

Knight, however, charged that it was Yingling and Donegan who created the hostile environment, which set in motion the chief ’s firing and the costly current outcome.

They sent out mass emails for people to pack selectmen’s meetings, and put out misinformation to manipulate the public, Knight said.

“They had a vendetta against the police chief,” Knight said. “This is what happens when you create a hostile environment. You have to pay for it. … I blame Erik and Tom for all of this.”

Exactly how much the town owes is still being determined and should be finalized in about a week, said Gambaccini.

Jaran will be owed at least a full year of his salary, which was about $127,000 in 2013, plus a few months, Gambaccini said. There is also 12 percent interest on the lost wages. Gambacinni said he estimates his attorney fees at $90,000 so far. Plus, the town must pay for its own legal efforts and the arbitration.

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