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Assembly approves deal for Lowe's exit

 


Following 40 minutes of closed-door discussion, the Haines Borough Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a “negotiated separation agreement” with police chief Gary Lowe.

Borough leaders – including assembly members, Mayor Stephanie Scott and manager Mark Earnest – this week refused to comment on the specifics of the agreement, saying those would be revealed Tuesday.

Joanne Waterman called for an executive session to discuss “matters pertaining to the chief of police,” which she said would fall under allowances for subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person.

Waterman said Lowe had waived his right to have the discussion in public, and requested manager Earnest and borough attorney Brooks Chandler be present. Chandler attended telephonically.  

After the private session, assembly member Jerry Lapp moved to accept the negotiated separation agreement between Lowe and the borough, and to authorize Mayor Scott to sign the agreement on the borough’s behalf.

The motion passed unanimously with no discussion or comment, except a statement by Waterman that the negotiated agreement will be made public Tuesday.

Scott said in an interview after the meeting that Lowe approached the borough with his resignation. “The separation agreement is in response to chief Lowe’s desire to resign. It was not initiated by the borough assembly.”

According to his contract, Lowe is required to provide 60 days’ notice of his resignation “unless a resignation is necessary for emergency or serious health reasons.”

If Lowe quits or resigns without giving such notice, Lowe forfeits all benefits afforded to him under the agreement, according to the contract. The contract also provides Lowe severance pay equal to three months of benefited salary if he is fired.

Lowe’s resignation came after a private “quasi-judicial hearing” Thursday, April 4, when the assembly heard testimony from department employees about complaints made against Lowe, Scott said.

After the Tuesday meeting, assembly members and other borough officials cited “legal reasons” for not being able to disclose the deal’s details. Assembly member Dave Berry said attorney Chandler instructed them to stay mum. “We had discussed making a general statement and it was the impression of the assembly – after talking to (Earnest) and (Chandler) – to wait and not say anything.”

Assembly member Norm Smith also cited “legal issues” for not commenting. “We can’t say one way or the other what went on because we still have a week to go. Otherwise, the whole thing could be back to ground zero,” Smith said.

Scott said the weeklong waiting period is state and federal law. Lowe, who signed the agreement, has a week to reconsider, she said.

“Everybody has been anxious to make sure that characters are not irreparably harmed in any way,” Scott said.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said she recognized the week waiting period is an “inconvenience” in terms of disseminating an explanation to the public, but said the assembly members agreed to keep their mouths shut instead of speaking to the media immediately.

“We discussed whether or not we wanted to take that step or not, and we decided we would honor the legal provision,” Schnabel said.

Schnabel called Lowe’s resignation “a relief.”

Earnest would not comment and said he is “following instructions that I’ve been given.” Earnest said Sgt. Simon Ford is acting chief indefinitely, and that he doesn’t know whether the police chief position will be advertised.

Lowe said Wednesday he was “not going to discuss anything” with the CVN. When asked how he reacted to the assembly’s action Tuesday (Lowe attended the meeting along with wife Kelly), Lowe said: “I don’t have any reaction. But the next time that I have a conversation with the CVN it will be with my attorney.”

Lowe participated in the “quasi-judicial hearing” Thursday and fielded questions from assembly members for about an hour-and-a-half, Scott said. Scott said the hearing took between four-and-a-half to five hours.

Ford said he spoke for about 20 minutes in front of the assembly and Chandler. Employees were phoned and asked to come in one by one so everyone didn’t “have to sit in the hallway staring at each other,” Ford said.

Besides Ford, three other employees testified in person and one or two submitted written comments, Ford said. Berry said in an interview Wednesday a reserve officer who had worked with Lowe and the officers also testified.

Hearing the complaints and concerns from the employees’ mouths and not just second-hand drove home “the seriousness of the situation” for Berry and “changed my perception” of the problem, he said. Lowe’s “indifference” to employee concerns was the most distressing revelation at the hearing, Berry said.

The assembly discussed issuing a press release, Berry said. If one ever emerges, it would likely be written by Scott or Earnest. 

 
 
 
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