Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Paper trail follows chief hopeful

 


Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest has shortlisted his favorite candidates for police chief from 16 to four, but at least one of them has encountered trouble in his former jobs.

  Steven Annetts of Pataskala, Ohio, made the shortlist, but Annetts left his previous job as police chief in Douglas, Wyo ., under questionable circumstances.

  Earnest’s short list included Annetts, interim police chief Simon Ford, Christopher Canaski of Des Allemands, La ., and Scott Happ of Brighton, Colo.

  According to the Douglas Budget newspaper,  in October 2012, the Douglas city administrator received an anonymous three-page letter outlining “several issues with Annetts’ leadership, including accusations describing the working environment at the PD as a ‘negative atmosphere,’ ‘hostile,’ ‘inconsistent,’ ‘belittling,’ and a ‘do as I say, not as I do regime.’”

  “The author also claims that PD employees are ‘... dispensable in Annetts’ eyes,” that ‘morale is at an all-time low,’ and accuses Annetts of ‘not being even-tempered,’ and ‘vindictive,’ and blames Annetts for the recent resignations of officers,” wrote reporter Adam Herrera.

  In July, Annetts was placed on administrative leave, but city officials refused to say why, whether his leave was paid or unpaid, and if the city was conducting an investigation into complaints against Annetts.

  According to sources and documents obtained by the Budget, the complaints stemmed from “allegations of sexual harassment, of retaliatory measures, of ousting veteran officers who disagreed with his management style, and of instilling a climate of fear among employees.”

Five veteran officers resigned from the force during Annetts’ two-year tenure as chief, the Budget reported.

  In August, Annetts resigned during a special council meeting. The council also passed an employment separation and confidentiality agreement.

  “He resigned under pressure from the community,” Budget publisher Matt Adelman said in an interview with the CVN Monday.

  Annette Hilyard, administrative assistant for the Douglas Police Department, said the city can’t comment on Annetts’ departure without a notarized release form signed by Annetts. “Anything here is a confidential personnel record and unless he says we can give you information about him, we legally can’t do that,” Hilyard said.

  Douglas’ experience with Annetts is reminiscent of Haines’ recent parting with former police chief Gary Lowe.

  Allegations from within the Haines Police Department of verbal abuse, fear of retaliation, sarcastic and belittling behavior, and lack of respect for the employees emerged in late February, and subsequent investigation led Earnest to put Lowe on administrative leave in March.  

  Lowe resigned in April and the assembly authorized a $53,000 payout, but Earnest and borough assembly members have been mum on what came out during a closed-door “quasi-judicial hearing” and why the assembly decided to approve the payout.

Before working in Douglas, Annetts worked for nearly 22 years at the Pickerington Police Department in Ohio as a patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant and patrol commander.

 According to Ohio criminal court records, Annetts was charged with passing bad checks in October 2009. The charge was dismissed.

  When Annetts left the Pickerington Police Department in 2011, he became locked in a disagreement with city officials over $14,000 in unused sick pay, according to the Pickerington Times-Sun. Annetts maintained he was “retired” and entitled to the money, according to a story by Nate Ellis.

“City officials, however, maintain Annetts ‘resigned’ from the force. They have said his service in Pickerington fell approximately three-and-a-half years short of entitling him to the money, because an employee must serve 25 years in order to ‘retire’ and receive the benefits via a retirement pension,” Ellis wrote.

  Annetts indicated on his application to the Haines Borough that he had never been discharged from employment or asked to resign, and listed “personal reasons” as an explanation for leaving the Douglas, Wyo ., job.

  Earnest said after the four shortlisted candidates complete some paperwork, he will have an outside firm conduct background checks for about $500 each.

  Canaski, another shortlisted candidate, has worked for Affirmative Insurance Holdings in Baton Rouge, La ., since 2011, conducting insurance fraud investigations. Before that, he worked for Progressive Casualty Insurance in Metairie, La ., for less than a year, also performing insurance fraud investigations.

  Canaski also worked for two years as chief of police in Cordova, from April 2008 to May 2010. From 2007 to 2008, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Harvey, La.

  Scott Happ has worked for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado since 2001, working his way up to deputy sheriff. Before that, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Brighton, Colo ., for four months. Happ also worked as a police officer in Wheat Ridge, Colo ., for less than a year.

  Interim police chief Ford worked at Olerud’s from 2005 until 2010, and started as a local patrolman in February 2010. He became sergeant in October 2011 and stepped in as interim police chief in March after Lowe was placed on administrative leave.

  Earnest said he would be forwarding applications of the finalists to the public safety commission and police department staff for review.

  Public safety commission chair Jim Stanford said he hasn’t been contacted by Earnest yet and hasn’t seen the applications from the four shortlisted employees. “We didn’t get a chance to look at the 16 either, so (Earnest) has done this on his own,” Stanford said.

  Stanford said he has been talking with commission member Bob Duis, who wanted plenty of time to research the candidates’ backgrounds to ensure a situation similar to the Lowe debacle isn’t repeated.

  “We don’t want to get caught in a situation where we hire somebody else and we have similar problems,” Stanford said.

  The commission meets at 5 p.m. Monday, and Stanford said he hopes to have the applications from Earnest by then.

  Among candidates who did not make the shortlist were Ron Otterbacher, who worked up from deputy sheriff to division chief over the course of 28 years at California’s Orange County Sheriff’s Office; and David Vaughn, who has worked as patrol sergeant for the Abilene Police Department in Texas since 2003.