Asst. chief's firing overturned - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Asst. chief's firing overturned

Marana police association still critical of Harris

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Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 12:00 am

Barbara Harris is set to return to her post as Marana’s assistant police chief in January, but the Marana Police Officers Association isn’t happy about it.

Last week, the MPOA issued a statement that despite a board’s 3-2 decision to overturn Harris’ firing, it stands behind its vote of no confidence in the former assistant chief.

“It’s still our position that she’s incompetent and grossly unqualified for the job,” said Jason Cann, vice president of the association.

Harris was fired June 20, three months after the association presented a vote of no confidence in then-chief Richard Vidaurri and Harris. Harris was placed on leave.

The 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 in the department filed similar complaints.

The Marana Personnel Action Review Board voted 3-2 on Dec. 10 to overturn her firing. The board, composed of three employees and two citizens, represents the final arena for town employees to appeal hiring and firing decisions.

Harris said in a statement that she was “pleased and gratified” the board had seen fit to reinstate her.

“I am looking forward to continuing my work in partnership with members of the police department, Marana officials and employees and the entire Marana community,” she stated.

Jody Horton, who has served as Harris’ spokeswoman, reiterated the former assistant chief’s intention to accept her reinstatement.

 “She is planning to go back,” Horton said. “That has been her desire from the beginning — that what she was hired to do, she wants to do it.”

Harris may have less than complete support.

The MPOA’s Cann said the decision for Harris’ return was not a ringing endorsement of her abilities; rather, it was the result of the failure of the former police chief, former town manager and human resources department to document her “many inadequacies and failings.”

Cann said many who testified against Harris in Personnel Action Review Board hearings fear retribution.

“If she wants to come join our changes and move forward, it’s possible she could redeem herself and be welcomed back,” he said. “If she wants to change her ways and get behind (Police Chief Terry) Tometich, things could be OK for her.”

From the perspective of attorney Minnette Burges — the woman who represented Harris before the personnel board — the situation looked different.

“The termination of Assistant Chief Harris was a disgrace to the Town of Marana,” she said.

To foster a smooth transition, which town spokesman Rodney Campbell said won’t happen until the New Year, Tometich started talking with staff last week.

“On Wednesday night, the chief sent an e-mail to staff telling everyone that they need to remain professional through the whole process,” Campbell said. “And when he discusses her return with her, he will tell her the same thing — that it’s a new beginning and she needs to be professional through the process.”

Meanwhile, Harris’ discrimination claim is proceeding.

“Once she talks to Marana, there might be something else arrived at, but right now, it’s moving forward,” Horton said.

It’s unclear what Harris’ job description would be upon her return. After her departure in June, the police department underwent a restructuring in which the assistant chief position was eliminated. The position of commander was created and filled by Jo Carrasco.

Harris will be reinstated as assistant police chief, and Cannasco will remain commander, Campbell said. It’s not yet clear, he said, how the duties would be split among the two.

Harris is scheduled to receive back pay and benefits. She did not receive severance.

Before signing on as Marana’s assistant police chief two years ago, Harris had a lengthy career with the Tucson Police Department and had served as the interim police chief at Pima Community College.

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