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Harassment suit muddles search for new chief
Selectmen will interview three candidates for the top police job as planned.

By MARC PARRY
STAFF WRITER
DENNIS - Sexual harassment allegations against one of three candidates for police chief jolted the search as selectmen prepare to meet with the finalists and make a selection by early next week.

In a lawsuit filed in Barnstable Superior Court in 2002, Mashpee Deputy Police Chief Albert Todino is accused of contributing to a "sexually hostile work environment." The lawsuit also claims he called a female police officer in his department "love muffin" and "whore," and spread stories alleging she is promiscuous.

Dennis officials held an emergency closed-door meeting Friday after learning about the lawsuit, but decided not to change the process.

But the revelation caused a stir in what has been a slow and deliberate process.

"It's a very disappointing and shocking turn of events," selectmen Chairman Donald Trepte said.

Dennis Police Chief John Symington retired as head of the 41-officer department at the end of 2003, triggering an expansive search process that included a selection committee and an initial field of 94 candidates.

Todino was one of three finalists publicly announced June 15 for the job, which was advertised with a salary range of $90,000 to $100,000.

Dennis officials learned about the lawsuit June 17 or June 18 when a reporter from the weekly newspaper The Register sent an e-mail inquiring about it, Trepte said.

Some selectmen said they were surprised the allegations came to light so late in the process.

In the lawsuit, Holly Clancy claims that Todino, motivated by her rejection of his romantic advances in 1995, interfered with her attempt to get disability benefits following an on-the-job injury in 2001.

Other defendants include outgoing Mashpee Police Chief Maurice Cooper, the Mashpee Board of Selectmen and the police department as a whole.



Allegation denied
Jeremy Silverfine, who represents Todino and the other defendants, yesterday dismissed the allegations.
"Our law firm sees hundreds of these things filed every year against town employees and police officers," he said. "Most of these cases end up being the defendant's verdict."

"It would be a real shame if Dennis looks at this," he added, saying it would mean "the plaintiff, just by throwing mud against the wall, has won. It violates every sense of fairness. Just because someone says it, doesn't make it true."

Among the options selectmen considered Friday were postponing an interview session where candidates would be asked hypothetical scenarios to see how they would handle themselves in office, and adding more candidates, according to selectmen Paul McCormick and Sheryl McMahon.

Board members decided to go ahead with the same set of candidates for both the questioning and the interviews, which are open to the public, at 9 a.m. Saturday at Town Hall.

The board did not consider dropping Todino as a candidate, McCormick said.

"We're supposed to say someone is innocent until proven guilty," he said. Removing Todino would give the impression he was guilty, he said.

But McCormick said he was unhappy the board had learned of the lawsuit after the candidates had been announced.

"I was a little disappointed that the consulting firm hadn't finished the background checks prior to this," he said.



Search process
Why the information came out so late is unclear.
The town had hired the Scituate consulting firm Bennett Yarger Associates to help find Symington's successor, as well as a new fire chief.

The total fee for both searches is $25,000.

The firm canvassed the town for views on the police department, solicited applications for the job, reviewed them, and recommended candidates.

The selectmen appointed a committee to review the applications, as well as the firm's recommendations. The committee whittled the field to six candidates.

The committee interviewed the six in early June and drew up a list of three finalists for the selectmen to consider. That's when the consulting firm began the background checks.

Todino said yesterday that he disclosed the harassment lawsuit to the committee during his early June interview.

The consultant, Richard Bennett, also said Todino had disclosed it to the committee then. His firm then independently verified the information and passed it on to town officials, Bennett said.

Trepte said selectmen got a letter about the lawsuit from the consulting firm June 18, after they had received The Register reporter's e-mail.

"We did get a letter, but that was not the thing that triggered the issue," he said. "And it's a letter I can't discuss because it was part of our discussions in executive session."

Asked whether the firm only provided the information after the town requested it, Trepte deferred to Town Administrator Robert Canevazzi, whom he said spoke with the consultant.

Canevazzi did not respond to two messages left with his assistant.



Sticking with interview plan
Trepte said the background checks did not turn up similar allegations against the other finalists - Joseph Baril Jr., the chief in Rutland, and Michael Whalen, the chief in Farmington, Conn.
This situation will not be repeated with the fire chief search, the selectmen said.

"I want to make sure everyone's background has been thoroughly (vetted) at an appropriate time before the names have been announced," McCormick said.

Meantime, the lawsuit that shook up the police chief search continues to make its way through Barnstable Superior Court.

Clancy sustained a shoulder injury while getting out of her cruiser in the line of duty in 2001, according to her attorney, Donald Fleming.

She claims in her lawsuit that the town of Mashpee initially delayed putting her on injured-on-duty status, which would grant her full salary while she was on leave. Mashpee has about 35 full-time police officers, including the police chief.

Todino, as the department's administrative officer, handled her claim, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says Todino "used his office to interfere with the Plaintiff obtaining her disability benefits; both by making sexually explicit statements about her sexual conduct while an officer in a prior police department and by referring to her as 'love muffin' and other derogatory terms."

Both Todino and Cooper allegedly "singled out the Plaintiff and treated her differently than other male employees and did not process her claim in the usual manner," violating her rights under state law, the lawsuit claims.

Clancy was eventually placed on leave with full benefits and remains on leave today.

She is seeking damages from the town, Fleming said. He said the town is liable for supervisors that create a hostile work environment.

The lawsuit is in the discovery phase.

Todino said he had been advised not to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

"I'm still pursuing the job as far as I'm concerned," Todino said. "I would still be honored to come to the town of Dennis as police chief. My reputation in the law enforcement community - I'll stand on that any day of the week."

(Published: June 24, 2004) Cape Cod Times
 
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