In an attempt to undo a decision to reinstate Barbara Harris as Marana’s assistant police chief, the Marana Police Officers Association is claiming that her appeal hearing violated the state’s open meetings law.
The association sent letters, dated Dec. 19, to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall suggesting that Harris’ hearing before the Marana Personnel Action Review Board, which concluded on Dec. 10, should have been open to the public.
The letters were sent through the firm Bihn and McDaniel.
According to Arizona law, governing boards can meet privately for “discussion or consideration of employment, assignment, appointment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, salaries, disciplining or resignation of a public officer, appointee or employee of any public body” unless one of the initiators of the process demands that it occur in public.
The association contends that this exception to the open meetings law does not hold in Harris’ case because she was not a Marana employee at the time of the hearing.
Frank Cassidy, the town attorney for Marana, said the argument isn’t sound.
“They say there was a violation because Harris was not an employee at the time, but the hearing’s purpose was to determine whether a major personnel action is appropriate,” he said. “So really, until they decide, she has the potential status of an employee, and in this case, they did decide she needed to get her job back.”
By calling into question the legality of the hearing, the police association hopes to win the right to see transcripts of the meetings and also force a public redo of the hearing.
“The problem with doing it in executive session is if I want to contest it in court, there’s no record,” said Jason Cann, vice president of the police union. “Also, if meetings are held in executive session, I can go in there and lie, and it can never be used against me. I’m not going to accuse anyone of lying, but there needs to be transparency in government.”
Harris was fired June 20, three months after the association presented a vote of no confidence in then-chief Richard Vidaurri and Harris.
Harris had been on administrative leave following the release of two department surveys that showed low officer morale and questions surrounding the chief’s and Harris’ leadership.
The day of her 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.