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AUBURN POLICE

Union votes no confidence in Auburn Police Department Chief Brian Neagle

  • Updated
Brian Neagle

Auburn Police Chief Brian Neagle.

An overwhelming majority of officers with the Auburn Police Department has voted no confidence in Chief Brian Neagle, according to documentation prepared by the local police union.

Sixty-one of 63 eligible members of the Auburn Police Local 195 participated in the vote two weeks ago. According to a report prepared by union leadership, 92 percent of that group voted no confidence in Neagle, who has served in his capacity as chief since 2012.

The Citizen obtained copies of a union leadership letter and supporting documentation on the matter, including an explanation of claims against Neagle. Copies of the report have also been delivered to councilors and the city manager, according to the union.

According to the documents, the vote was held on Dec. 22 through a secret ballot; its results were shared with the union on Monday.

In the report, the union executive board — led by Officer Joe Villano, president — said the vote reflects a contention that Neagle has created a "poor and hostile work environment" partly due to a lack of leadership and a "vindictive personality" that has contributed to lowered morale through the APD.

The results, the board wrote, reflect the majority's stance that they believe Neagle incapable of "honestly and effectively running" the police department.

Neagle, who has been out on medical leave, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"It is our belief that Chief Neagle has intentionally created a work environment that he controls through generating and maintaining a fear of discipline and/or retaliation among his subordinates," the letter states. "This underlying fear of discipline erodes the ability of our patrolman (sic) to work confidently, which negatively and dangerously effects officer safety."

In an interview Tuesday, Villano said, "We no longer want him as the chief of police. We're not going to condone the behavior and the conduct."

City Manager Doug Selby will review the union's allegations against Neagle, though he is familiar with most of them, he said. Neagle has not indicated to the city manager when he plans to return to work from medical leave.

The city manager stated he will continue to support the chief, saying Neagle has done a good job in meeting budget requirements and curtailing overtime, as examples. Selby said he had not heard any complaints about Neagle's conduct or any notions of fear from the police workforce prior to the installment of current union leadership last May.

Selby said he is taking the 92-percent support for the no-confidence vote very seriously. However, the city manager said that "it's easy to rally people" in an anonymous vote. 

"I do understand the motivation which is to get rid of the chief, but I don't, at this point, see anything that warrants an action," Selby said.

The union cites specific grievances against Neagle to support its claims.

These include concerns previously disclosed publicly by the union, such as maintenance needs for the police department's North Street headquarters and a union belief that the APD's former Emergency Response Team — disbanded last May due to training and equipment needs — can be restored through the department's cache of federal Asset Forfeiture funds controlled by Neagle.

The APD's Asset Forfeiture accounts were recently frozen by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of the department's investigation into an unspecified compliance issue. Corporation Counsel John Rossi has said the matter involves an accounting measure that has since been corrected and he expects the hold to be lifted soon.

A majority of the 19 union claims against Neagle are related to personnel matters. Selby declined to comment on specific personnel matters.

The report claims Neagle ordered a captain to initiate a disciplinary file against an unspecified employee who was on track for promotion to lieutenant as a method of "targeting" this employee. Based on the alleged incident alone, the union requests Neagle's immediate suspension pending outside investigation, according to the report. 

The documents also allude to two instances where officers were disciplined by Neagle for violating APD policy, though the union claims explanations of the specific infractions were allegedly not provided despite several requests.

"This is an egregious attempt to hinder our ability to adequately and fairly defend against these charges," the union writes.

Another complaint involves a part-time, off-duty security detail at the East Hill Medical Center on Genesee Street. According to the documents, the detail — at a rate of $25 per hour, as per the union — was once available to union members on a rotational basis.

The union, however, contends that Neagle removed the part-time detail from the rotation at some point after his promotion to chief. Union leaders wrote they later discovered that Neagle had secured the position for himself while "regularly" commuting to East Hill with his city-owned vehicle. The letter supports this claim with a photograph of the vehicle parked at East Hill.

The city's employment policy states an employee may not use city-owned property for personal use. Selby said the chief was asked to stop using the vehicle with the detail out of respect to the union. However, he said Neagle was not necessarily wrong with his conduct because he, as chief, is always on duty.

The union also claims Neagle has consistently failed to communicate with union leadership until leaders request the city manager's intervention. And they allege the chief has ordered personnel to "spy on conversations between civilian employees and Patrol Command Staff."

In addition, the union describes its issues with Neagle's absence from, or lack of participation in, several area events, such as the recent Heroin Awareness March and the Pink in the Park breast cancer awareness benefit in August.

"We feel that Chief Neagle's lack of connection to the community misrepresents how we feel as a department," the letter states.

Selby cited Pink in the Park specifically, saying the chief was there out of uniform supporting the security detail. There have also been scheduling conflicts with other events, according to Selby. The city manager said it is "unfair" of the union to single out Neagle's lack of presence at a few events and declare him an improper leader.

Regarding the union itself, Selby said the union may lack a complete understanding with some of the cited issues. A broken doorknob, he said as an example, is a building maintenance issue and does not reflect on Neagle's ability as chief.

"I think there's probably some poor communication," Selby said. "It certainly seems like there's a lack of trust and those are issues that need to be dealt with."

The union also cites concerns with comments made by Neagle as an officer in 1996.

Neagle was then accused of making racially and culturally insensitive comments, and the union report states the membership chooses to disassociate from this behavior. However, Selby has said he does not consider Neagle's conduct from more than two decades ago substantive to the present.

Calling this situation an internal personnel matter with the police department, Mayor Michael Quill said he believes the vote should be handled as such by the city manager, not by himself or the Auburn City Council.

Selby promoted Neagle to the chief's position effective Aug. 1, 2012. Quill does not believe the city council should get involved in this matter, saying the city manager's office has historically handled internal personnel disputes.

Asked about the no-confidence vote, Quill said it is not fair for him to "weigh in on the inner-workings of the department."

“The chief is a friend of mine," the mayor said. "I'm happy with what he's done, but I don't know the inner-workings of the department at the same time."

In an email Tuesday, Councilor Debby McCormick said she is taking this issue "very seriously."

She said the dispute is about matters of leadership and trust within the department, adding that the number of votes favoring no confidence is "a loud and clear message that something is not right."

"The citizens of Auburn deserve integrity in each and every employee of the city, in law enforcement and in particular in its leadership — nothing less, there is no room for uncertainty at all."

Newly elected councilor Jimmy Giannettino said he believes the 92 percent vote appears "compelling" and hopes both sides will continue to act professionally in this dispute, but declined to comment further at this time.

Councilor Dia Carabajal, who was also sworn into her new position at the start of the year, also declined to comment. Councilor Terry Cuddy could not be reached for comment.

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.

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