Infighting costs police chief his merit raise

(PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- After a year of police department infighting, City Manager Don Cooper evaluated the performance of Chief John Skinner last month, rating his overall performance as good but his conflict resolution skills close to failing, according to documents released last week.

Difficulty quelling dust-ups between police managers cost Skinner a 3 percent merit-based pay increase for next year, worth $2,656 of his current $88,566 salary, Cooper said. Skinner will still receive a 3 percent cost of living increase, Cooper said. Last year, Skinner won the maximum raise - a total of 4 percent - offered by the city.

Cooper noted that department employees seek "conflict for personal reasons and the city and org. (sic) are secondary in consideration. This needs to be corrected," according to the documents.

During the past five months, Skinner has withstood a barrage of allegations that eventually led to the firing of one top official, the elimination of two management positions, demotions of other top officials and a reorganization of the department.

Skinner's troubles began after the May arrest of staff administrator Anthony Valicenti's son on battery charges. Valicenti allegedly threatened to discredit the department and "take out" Skinner if the case wasn't handled properly.

Days later, an anonymous letter accused Skinner of hiring his friends to conduct department trainings. The letter led to a two-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which eventually cleared the department of any criminal wrongdoing.

Tired of accusatory memos flying back and forth between police administrators, city council members ordered Skinner to cut management ranks.

Skinner had blamed Valicenti for the infighting and fired him in August. A citizen's advisory board had heard days of testimony already in Valicenti's appeal and plans to make a decision on his dismissal Nov. 30.

Throughout the controversy Skinner has defended the department's record. Skinner could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. He was returning from San Diego, where he accepted a runners-up award from the International Chiefs of Police Association for exceptional service to a community with between 75,000 and 125,000 residents.

(iSyndicate; The Palm Beach Post; Nov. 16, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright( 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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