June 20, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 24


The Haines Borough Assembly has decided against hiring a headhunting firm and instead will hire a new police chief itself, with the input of the recently revived Public Safety Commission.

If that sounds familiar, consider the CVN’s May 15, 2008 account of the hire of former chief Gary Lowe. Lowe was relieved of his duties in April for alleged abusive behavior toward officers and a dispatcher.

“The Haines Borough Assembly Tuesday voted unanimously to offer the job of police chief to Gary Lowe, a 25-year veteran and lieutenant at the Pekin, Ill. police department.

“The assembly voted to accept the unanimous recommendation of a mayoral-appointed ad hoc committee for Lowe’s hire. Members included former Mayor Mike Case, retired policeman Jerry Erny, banker Dick Flegel, former state trooper Ike Lorentz, and retired Lynn Canal Counseling director Bill Stacy.

“Assembly members voted to offer Lowe the job without first flying him up for an interview. Case, ad-hoc committee chair, said he would be comfortable hiring Lowe unseen.

“Audience member and KHNS reporter John Hunt said flying candidates up for an interview might be worthwhile, as there was no guarantee an individual would be satisfied with the area or community.

“Mayor Fred Shields said the decision to offer the job to one of two strong candidates without an in-person interview had not been made lightly.

“Case said both short-listed, out-of-town candidates had been to Haines. Case said Lowe had impressed the committee during the interview by saying ‘he would work very hard with the community to establish a policing presence and not a fortress.’”

Our best and brightest were given the job of finding our last police chief and their work did not turn up a winner. Nor have we hired particularly well in the past. In the last 30 years, only former chief Greg Goodman had much longevity on the job.

In Petersburg, the borough assembly recently paid a headhunting firm $26,500, including travel, to help land a new chief. (Petersburg has a population of 3,200 and pays its chief $82,500 annually. Haines, with a population of 2,500, paid Lowe $87,000.) Petersburg’s process started with more than 60 applicants, included a four-day visit to Petersburg by three finalists, and ended with the hire of the chief from the Hoonah police department.

In Haines, as they say, we are doing the same old thing and hoping for a different result.

For a “traditional” hiring process to work, a hiring committee needs to rigorously screen candidates, including conducting extensive interviews with police, elected leaders -- and detractors -- in towns where candidates previously worked. Committee members also should check with district attorneys in those towns, to see how well departments under those chiefs investigated and prosecuted crimes.

Under Lowe, the department’s investigative record was not impressive.

Finally, at the very least, the borough should bring shortlisted police chief candidates to town for several days.

-- Tom Morphet