May 9, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 18

Closed-door session on chief's departure

The Haines Borough Assembly will hold a closed-door “debriefing” Tuesday on the process that led to the borough’s separation with former police chief Gary Lowe.

The debriefing will take place in executive session during Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting and will be attended telephonically by borough attorney Brooks Chandler, Mayor Stephanie Scott said. Chandler will perform a “risk analysis” of the assembly’s role in the borough’s separation with Lowe.

Borough officials have yet to make a public statement explaining the situation surrounding Lowe’s departure or why they negotiated an agreement to give Lowe three months of paid leave and a $36,000 payout instead of terminating him outright.

When asked what kind of “risks” specifically would be addressed during the debriefing, Scott said, “basically the risks that we avoided that would have placed hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money at risk.”

Scott said the debriefing will occur in executive session because “should this discussion take place in public, it could negatively affect the finances of the borough.” She would not elaborate.

“I can’t discuss it...without jeopardizing the borough. I know that sounds lame, but it is true. I’m sorry that’s so unacceptable, but sometimes that’s what it has to be,” Scott said.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel requested a debriefing during the April 23 assembly meeting, but said this week she had envisioned a public discussion that would extend beyond the borough attorney performing a risk assessment.

“I want a more effective, straightforward and transparent process so the public is aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Schnabel said.

  Issues regarding the two-month process Schnabel said she would like to see discussed include: the communication triangle between the assembly members, manager, and police department staff, the role of the newspaper, the level of involvement of the borough attorney, and the consequences of allowing the public to give testimony on the character of the chief.

Alaska’s Open Meetings Act allows a governing body to enter into executive session for “matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the public entity.”

However, when an assembly member makes a motion to move into executive session, he or she must “state specifically what will be discussed” and the motion “must contain enough detail that the public (and if necessary a court) will be informed of exactly why the executive session is appropriate, without defeating the purpose of going into executive session.”