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Canton Police Union Votes ‘No Confidence,’ Calls for Resignations of Skinner, Barlow

Town attorney says vendetta is personal and partially the result of resistance to reform.

The Canton Police Union says it has “no confidence” in the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner and First Selectman Richard Barlow and has called for the termination or resignation of Skinner and the latter for Barlow.

A press release issued by the Canton Police union indicates the town's recent settlement of sexual harassment complaints against Skinner by executive assistant Michelle Schroder was the catalyst for the action but also lists several other complaints. As worded in a release sent to Patch by union president Mark Penney, the other main points are: 

  • Violation of contractual obligations creating unnecessary and costly grievances
  • Elimination of career progression within the department, as evident by the recent hiring of an external candidate for the second in command position
  • Creating a situation that calls into question the ability to effectively perform the CAO’s administrative duties, especially those that call for disciplining members of the police department.
  • Overall destruction of morale within the department

“It is clear that the priorities of these two gentlemen are not where they should be,” the release states. “It is embarrassing and, as evidenced by the $55,000 dollar payout, costly to the taxpayers of this Town. In contract negotiations we are constantly reminded that finances are tight with the economy. The Canton Police Union understands this and feels that the Town of Canton cannot afford another situation like this. The Canton Police Union therefore calls for the immediate resignation or termination of CAO Robert Skinner and the resignation of Town First Selectman Dick Barlow.“

The town’s labor attorney, Michael C. Harrington of Murtha Cullina LLP, has said the town was willing to defend Skinner but took an opportunity to settle and save the town money from what a court case would have cost.

On Friday night he said the timing of the union’s release made it difficult for a full response but countered many of the arguments. Although the release states the union vote was unanimous, contends that the action is part of a “personal vendetta” from Penney.

“Mark Penney is quite unhappy that Bob Skinner has actively managed the town and the department since he arrived,” Harrington said.

The union contends the process with Schroder should have involved an investigation with police oversight and that she and Skinner should have been placed on administrative leave during it.

The police union contends that no action was taken against Skinner but that a similar complaint would result in a harsh reprimand and possible termination if it were a member of the department. It also states two Canton officers were forced out or fired for “less severe” incidents.

Harrington said administrative leave in these cases is done when there is a fear of evidence destruction or an ongoing complaint but that Schroder’s allegations involved a past period of time. He also said it was not a police matter.

“A municipal department is never the appropriate agency to investigate administrative charges in another department,” he said.

The union also alleges Barlow did not take enough action.

“According to [Schroder's] complaint Barlow only acknowledged receiving her e-mails and never met with her to discuss these issues,” the release states.

Harrington said Schroder’s complaint in fact acknowledges that Barlow met with her. The first selectmen then referred the matter to Harrington’s firm and that included an investigation, partially conducted by a female attorney, officials said.  

“We certainly took it seriously,” Barlow said.

With the union allegations of contract violations, Harrington said he is not aware of any. There have been no arbitrations in the union's favor, Harrington said. Since Skinner was hired, there have been 14 union grievances, 13 from the police department and 1 from the dispatcher’s union against the department. No other unions have filed any, he said.

According to Harrington, what Skinner has done is eliminate practices such as purchasing items without prior approval and “double dipping” by police, such as an officer calling in sick on a holiday and collecting sick and holiday pay.

He said six grievances are pending but contends the union’s attorney has resisted consolidating them. The union also filed one contending it should not have to sign the town’s ethics policy, Harrington said.

The union’s letter references a speeding ticket to Skinner and his complaint that he was targeted. Harrington said he believes an investigation was inconclusive but said it came three hours after Skinner told the union their contract did not support the double dipping.

Hiring outside the department has been an issue in town, especially after Lowell Humphrey retired as police chief in 2009.

The town first hired John Murphy, who only stayed on the job for three months, and the town eventually hired current chief Christopher Arciero.

The selection process predates Canton Patch but according to this May 2010 Canton News article and others, there was strong community support to appoint long-time Canton veteran Deputy Chief Donald Hull to the position.

“Barlow was also instrumental in the decisions to look outside the department on two separate occasions to hire a new police chief and overlook a solid internal candidate,” the union’s release states. “A petition signed by Canton residents insisting that this candidate be given the chance to perform a job he had been trained for was ignored by the Board of Selectmen under Barlow’s oversight. That candidate eventually retired and was hired as a Police Chief in another police department.”

This year, the town hired an outside candidate to replace Hull after he took a job as chief of Stowe, VT. Penny was one of the candidates for what is now the position of captain.

Harrington said it’s clear no one was overlooked. In each case, the internal candidates were among those considered in a comprehensive process, he said.

“The town absolutely has as a priority hiring the most qualified candidate,” he said.

The union has also stated that morale is at an all-time low and several candidates are pursuing jobs elsewhere.

Barlow, who said he was disappointed with the no confidence action, said he was also shocked by the contention. The department is at full strength, a town resident was recently hired as an officer and another came from a different town to work in Canton.

“It seems there are individuals willing to come work in our police department,” Barlow said.

He also said the police union amicably agreed to a 2-year extension of a contract with minor modifications.

Friday night Skinner said he also was disappointed by the vote but said he will continue to work with police.

“I’m disappointed in the vote of no confidence but it will not deter me from working with all members of the department to make sure we have a successful police department,” he said. “I do think the department is headed in the right direction.”

Saturday morning Penney called the town's responses "smoke and mirrors" and issued the following statement. 

"I’m sure anyone reading the press release issued by the Canton Police Union and who is familiar with the town would have expected no less in a rebuttal from First Selectman Dick Barlow, CAO Robert Skinner, and the Town Attorney, Mike Harrington. And by that I mean smoke and mirrors. In an effort to draw attention away from themselves and their shenanigans they are casting the blame on someone else.  Someone had to say something and the Canton Police and Dispatcher Unions both did.  We stand resolute in that action. I think the taxpayers can read between the lines on this."

The union's full release is attached to this story as are several of the documents related to the Schroder complaint released to Patch and others after Freedom of Information requests. 

Scott September 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM
How strange the town Attorney makes comments he knows nothing about. He is the one who did the so called investigation against Mr. Skinner. An investigation with nothing on paper. WOW!!! I smell cover up!!!!!!
Mike September 15, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Unless I'm mistaken, the "Town Attorney" is only one from a company the town chose to get legal representation from.
Scott September 15, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Another team BARLOW cover up!!!!!!! By the way the cops do not double dip. Our officers are very caring and ask nothing other than to be treated fairly.... Yet they are treated like garbage and harassed by Mr. Barlow and his CAO who I guess we know prefers women!!!
Collins Cantonite September 15, 2012 at 01:45 PM
At the very least, It was a bad attempt at "coming to a quiet agreement and shove it under the rug" or at worst, a cover up by CAO Counselor Skinner and his Lackey, Barlow. Question though? Did the board of selectman vote on this agreement? If so, where are the minutes? Is this not a ethics violation and at the very least subject to an investigation? Did Skinner and Barlow miss the sexual harrassment 101 class?Another instance of do as I say, not as I do.
Scott September 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I just read the comments by Sgt. Penney and read the Canton Police Union letter. Mr. Skinner and Mr. Barlow are destroying this town . Seems to me an investigation into those two needs to be conducted ... This makes me sick! September 11th has just passed and I am disgusted at how these two are treating our officers !!! What country do you to live in. Must be nice while our officers are working to protect us you two are trying to destroy them.. You two remind me of the Taliban!!!!!!
Donna Carney September 16, 2012 at 11:44 AM
At a meeting at the school about our youth I know for a fact that the Canton Police was thrown under the bus and my daughter and myself stuck up for the police. why is it everytime something bad happens in this town officials always blame the police dept. also I was hurt out side a local town building and went to the town several times begging the town to pay the medical bills just to make me whole again that was it. I got NO WHERE IT IS GETTING CLOSE TO A YEAR AND I WAS FORCED TO GET AN ATTORNEY WHICH IN TURN WILL END UP COSTING THIS TOWN MORE MONEY THEN MEDICAL BILLS.....WHY??????? WE NEED ANSWERS AND I DO AND WILL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THIS GREAT POLICE DEPT.....
N. Jon I. Twist September 16, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Yep, there are still some BAD apples left in the Canton Police Department. We need a good house cleaning. Yep a couple with their belly bottons fogged up so they can't see.
N. Jon I. Twist September 16, 2012 at 05:11 PM
i'm sorry I should not have said belly buttons, it isn't the belly buttons, it's their wallets. Hey if we can get rid of both Skinner and Barlow, we can go back to the good old days of double dipping, just like Bristol, New Brittan and Hartford.
John Fitts (Editor) September 16, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Hey folks. Please keep this thread respectful. There is a pending comment that hints at it being OK if the author of another comment dies. I’m not approving that. Stick to the issues and be respectful. Thank you. John
Ed September 16, 2012 at 10:42 PM
My wife and I have lived in Canton for 25 years, and it has always been led by selectmen who had the best interest of the town at heart. Sure, they had their politics, and no, they weren't perfect, but you could see by their actions they were doing the best job they could for the town. A vote of no confidence by any department was unheard of. Until the Barlow administration, that is. John Murphy's refusal to be a lapdog signaled the problem early on. Barlow and Skinner told Murphy they would be dictating police department policy. Murphy found that unacceptable and left after just a few months, as any upright police chief would. Then Arciero was hired rather than promoting the obvious replacement, Deputy Chief Hull. Mr. Hull has since been lost to another town that was looking for an actual police chief rather than a lapdog. The Canton PD has become pretty much just a retirement home for Barlow's pals. Why do we, as taxpayers, pay for police training if the cops receiving that training are going to be passed over for promotion? They'll simply go find employment elsewhere where their training will be valued. Why are other town employees being terminated or forced out for less grievous offenses than Skinner's, and why is Skinner suffering no consequences whatsoever?
Donna Carney September 16, 2012 at 10:55 PM
I agree Jon I like the police dept and I support it 100% I tell you what I wouldn't want to do their jobs and they do it well. Lets stop throwing them under the bus.....they do seem to get the short end of the stick all the time
Ryan September 17, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Its kind of funny that you think this. It amazes me how people fail to do their research before taking a stance. I interact with the police force on a near daily basis and have had a lot of experience with the entire force with the exception of Captain Terra and Officer Rodriquez because they are fairly new. Everything I have seen with this group of officers and what I have seen them do only goes to show that they are a great bunch of guys that are trying to do their jobs in the best way that they can. 95% of the issues that have come up with the PD have been caused by a few members of the board of selectmen including the head honcho and the CAO himself. There were a few issues in the PD in the past years but those have all been fixed and the people responsible for those issues have been removed. So before you go bad mouthing a great force why don't you try to get all your facts in order?
Canton Taxpayer September 17, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Regardless of the CPD's issues with the Selectmen - and they may have extremely valid grievances that should be addressed - I can't see the logic in the whole complaint hinging on the Town's settlement of a potentially costly, time-consuming lawsuit with the CAO's secretary. Seems one has nothing to do with the other....
John September 17, 2012 at 05:50 PM
If this was any other town employee they would be put under investigation and put on leave why is Skinner any different?? Thank you canton PD for calling him out on the issues he is causing, we should not be giving the PD a hard time for this, they are not the ones that just caused the town to shell out $55000....,
Canton Taxpayer September 17, 2012 at 06:49 PM
But what do the 4 main Canton PD grievances listed above have to do with a lawsuit that was settled? Lawyers fees alone would be much much greater than $55K so I'm pretty sure that was a savings....seriously -- I just don't see the link.
John Schroder September 17, 2012 at 09:19 PM
The town attorneys should do themselves a favor and just stop talking. They seem to have taken a blind “whatever we say must be true” approach to responding to negativity about their client, the Town of Canton. Their self-proclaimed truths in this article regarding the Schroder lawsuit are nothing more than bits of statements that were carefully and deceptively rearranged, then presented as fact, in an effort to push the blame anywhere else but on themselves. Harrington's rationale why there was no admin leave makes no sense - it was no secret the working environment remained hostile right up to the end. I agree that not putting one of them on leave was a poor choice. Union President Mark Penney’s statement re the smoke and mirrors has hit the bullseye. If I were a resident taxpayer of Canton, I would demand change! I’d start a petition of my own in an effort to have 1st Selectman Barlow resign, and to have CAO Skinner terminated for good cause. I am, after all, highly biased. Unfortunately, I am not a resident. So, all I can do is watch the drama unfold with a smile on my face and wish the Canton Police Union success in its endeavors.
John Schroder September 17, 2012 at 09:24 PM
FYI, for the benefit of the Canton Police Union, Robert Skinner's Employment Agreement is on the town website: On the home page click “Request for Proposals” on the left side bar, then click the link for current contracts with the Town of Canton, then scroll down to “Robert_Skinner.pdf”. See "Section 3 - Termination and Severance Pay". If you specifically refer to the bulleted item at the top of page 3 in that section of the agreement, it appears to be an appropriate example of termination for good cause. The question I would have is, what is the true purpose of a contract or agreement if its conditions are not enforced?
David C. Couper September 18, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Sounds like trouble a-brewing! For help, take a look at “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” (Amazon.com in US and EU). And the blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/ where other current police improvement issues are discussed. Good luck and may we all experience not just good but great policing! Great policing is accomplished by police who are well-trained and led, restrained in their use of force, honest, and courteous to every person.
Debbie Smith September 20, 2012 at 01:42 AM
It seems to me that both Barlow and Skinner need to step down and get out of town. It is unfortunate that both the PD and Town Hall seemed to have lost valuable employees due to the unprofessional and unethical actions of both these individuals. In this article, Harrington mentions "No other unions have filed any.." grievences, that is. It doesn't mention that within the last six months the Town Hall union was disbanned. The major negotiator for the Town Hall union was an employee directly connected to the CAO office. I bet there wasn't any resistance from Barlow or Skinner when that decision was made. It screams of conflict of interest and it is yet another ethical malfunction in this town. I wish the PD union well in their push to right the wrong and hold those responsible to the same standard to which they preach - yet feel they are immune to.
Jane Doe October 20, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Thanks Debbie!! These folks should lead by example. They are not. Sending mixed messages to our citizens and allowing bad behavior to reign. That kind of behavior is unfortunately contagious. Demonstrate professionalism and ethics. Honestly, I don't think the leaders within this community know what that is. I don't think integrity exists within this small community which preaches otherwise.

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