PROVINCETOWN — Austin Knight is not exactly saying “I told you so,” but he did try to warn the town about the legal ramifications of firing former Police Chief Jeff Jaran, which ended up being costly. Knight is running for select board after resigning in 2014 amid the controversy surrounding Jaran’s support for him.
The 62-year-old builder is returning to the fray, competing for one of two available seats along with incumbents Louise Venden and Bobby Anthony in the election now scheduled for June 9. Knight said he wants to help the town get its new police station built.
“We need a new police station,” he said, adding that the exact location, size, and cost should be decided during a fall ballot election, so that every voter has a say.
Addressing his past, which Knight himself called “the elephant in the room,” he said he resigned in 2014 for personal reasons, though his opponents had collected over 300 signatures on a petition, which, had they been certified, would have been enough to trigger a recall election.
He was at the center of a divisive battle over Chief Jaran, who, an investigation by Frank Rudewicz of Marcum LLP found, had advised his officers at a staff meeting to support Knight in a 2013 election and directed staff to bring campaign signs to the station. That same year, Jaran was fired for interfering with the election.
The investigation found that Knight “knew that the signs would be distributed to Provincetown police officers.” Knight still denies he knew anything about police involvement in his campaign.
Knight and Jaran were in favor of building a new police station, which was a political powder keg at the time and remains so today.
The investigation also found that Jaran acted in an intimidating way towards patrons of the Squealing Pig when the song “F*ck tha Police,” by the rap group N.W.A., played on the bartender’s preset playlist.
Knight told the Independent this week that he had been privately working with the town manager, Sharon Lynn, to negotiate Jaran out of his five-year contract following Jaran’s behavior at the Squealing Pig.
When angry citizens and the police union pushed the select board to fire Jaran, Knight argued against it, warning of legal repercussions.
In 2015, a police arbitration process found that Jaran’s firing violated his contract. The town had to pay the former chief $512,797.
“What I said is exactly what happened,” Knight told the Independent.
Knight apologized for any role he played in the Jaran mess. He said he is running again because of his experience on the select board. He served seven years, from 2007 to 2014.
“We don’t know the ramifications of the pandemic,” he said. He estimates that tax revenues will take at least a $250,000 hit, “and I have the experience as a selectman to make tough decisions.”
During his tenure, Knight said, he worked with the Dept. of Revenue when Provincetown was put on a watch list for inconsistences in its financial records. Keith Bergman had stepped down as town manager after 16 years, and Lynn had just started.
“In two or three years, we were taken off the watch list,” he said. “People don’t realize how close we were to going into receivership.”
In 2009, during a recession, town hall was in such disrepair the building inspector closed part of the auditorium. The select board led a major renovation of the historic building.
During the week of July 4 in 2009, the town’s sewers broke down, necessitating a revamping of the entire system. Additional shutoffs were added to protect zones from a system-wide collapse, Knight said.
His board also successfully led the renovation of the library and instituted a water main and paving repair system in 2012.
Knight came to Provincetown in 1997 and became active in the AIDS Support Group. A former member of the water and sewer board, he is also a Mason and a Shriner.
“I wouldn’t be running again if I didn’t believe in Provincetown,” Knight said.