It’s been nine years since the city of Sedona’s Personnel Board last convened at the request of an employee.
So for most of the city department heads in the audience, as well as the board itself, the Wednesday, Jan. 31, hearing was a new experience.
Sedona Police officer Jim Pott, a 35-year law enforcement officer with 13 years with the Sedona Police Department, requested to appear before the board to dispute a demotion he received in late 2017 from sergeant to patrol officer. The action stemmed from an acknowledged and consensual affair he had for several months with police volunteer Sharleen Henderson.
The four-hour public hearing ended with the board giving its findings to City Manager Justin Clifton, who approved a request last year from SPD Chief David McGill to demote Pott. The board found cause for almost all of the policy violations but took exception to two policy violations for semantic reasons, Clifton said.
“They also advised that the disciplinary action was appropriate,” he said. “For that reason, there is no need to consider the matter further and the original disciplinary action will stand without further consideration.”
According to the city’s website, the role of the Personnel Board is to determine whether just cause existed for dismissal, demotion or suspension without pay of classified non-probationary employees. The board also ensures that proper procedures have been followed in such matters.
The city contends that the affair was in direct violation of the police conduct code that prohibits personal relationships of this type between a supervisor and subordinate. At the time of the affair, Pott was the officer in charge of overseeing the volunteer program. However, he contends that there was some gray area as to whether or not he was Henderson’s supervisor, being that he shared the role of overseeing the program with the department’s administrative assistant, Sherri O’Connor.
City staff was made aware of the affair after receiving letters to that fact. McGill, Clifton, City Attorney Robert Pickels, Human Resource manager Brenda Tammarine and other staff members, as well as the 20-plus police volunteers, began receiving letters from a person who signed each “a concerned volunteer.” McGill said they began receiving them, as well as emails, on a daily basis.
McGill asked SPD Cmdr. Ron Bayne to look into the matter after receiving the initial few letters. Shortly after that, Pott and Henderson requested to talk to McGill, and they admitted to the affair. It was determined that the affair did not take place when Pott was on duty or in any city-owned buildings or vehicles.
“It turned our world upside down,” McGill said of the letters. “It had a detrimental effect on our organization and on our ability to get work done because it became such a distraction. As time went on we got more and more letters. At that point I didn’t know if we had an internal employee trying to disrupt our organization. We were trying to figure out who they were and what it was they wanted.”
While trying to determine the author of the letters, the department was also looking into whether or not the letters crossed the line of harassment, because as McGill said, “They didn’t stop. They just kept coming and coming.”
Following a criminal investigation by the Cottonwood Police Department, at the request of McGill, it was determined that the sender of all the emails and letters was 58-yearold Roy Gwenn Daniels, who had had a prior relationship with Henderson. Daniels was arrested and later pleaded guilty in Yavapai Superior Court to criminal trespass in the first degree, harassment per domestic violence and harassment. He served two days in jail, was placed on supervised probation for two years and was ordered to pay restitution of $1,669.50, as well as additional fines.
Pott contends that it was not the relationship that caused the disruption in the department but rather the barrage of letters.
Between the investigation conducted by Bayne, his discussion with Pott and Henderson, as well as the allegation made in the letters, McGill felt the best course of action was to demote Pott.
“When things happen, I’m going to hold you accountable,” he said. “The actions of Mr. Pott and Miss Henderson brought discredit to our organization. I took everything into consideration including his work history and how nice he is. I love this man — but this was the right decision.”
Through various avenues including discussions, department policies, emails and the natural chain of commend, McGill feels everyone knew that Pott oversaw the volunteer program — including Pott.
“There was never any question in my mind and no doubt who the volunteers answered to and that was Jim Pott,” he said.
On the same issue he later added that when Pott was asked by Bayne what he felt his role was in terms of the volunteer program, Pott reportedly said he didn’t feel he was a supervisor as much as he was a coordinator.
“Sorry, that doesn’t fly,” McGill said. “I find that disingenuous and wrong. Again, there’s been no doubt who is responsible for the volunteers.”
McGill ended by saying that while Pott is a very knowledgeable and highly qualified officer, as well as a great ambassador to the community, he feels he has lost credibility in terms of being a supervisor.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jim — I took that into consideration — and because of that I did not fire Jim or did not make the recommendation that he be terminated,” he said. “I think he has a lot of good left in him. He made a serious mistake that I feel he can overcome in time.”
As character witnesses, two current officers and a communications specialist spoke glowingly of Pott by saying he’s very professional, easy to communicate with, an excellent supervisor and someone who always has the back of his fellow officers.
“I’ve had many supervisors throughout my career, and he was one of the best I’ve ever had,” said officer Jackie McQuaid, a 20-year veteran of the SPD. “He was an excellent patrol sergeant. If you had a question, he was there for you. He’d give you advice on how you could have handled something differently. He was very easy to talk to. He’s a man that I trust.”
When it was his turn to address the board, Pott said he held a supervisory role over the volunteer program until 2014 when he asked to no longer be in charge of it in order to focus on other responsibilities. That lasted for about a year, at which point he felt overseeing the program had become a shared role between him and O’Connor.
“I felt my main role with the volunteers was to coordinate events such as the Halloween event and St. Patrick’s Day parade,” he said, adding that there were other volunteer responsibilities that he did not oversee and that he never assigned duties to Henderson.
Pott acknowledged that the relationship with Henderson should never had taken place, but he doesn’t feel a demotion was warranted.
“I should be disciplined, but with a suspension without pay and then returned to sergeant,” he said.