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

 
 

Deals with rogue cops questioned

 


Assembly member Debra Schnabel is questioning Haines Borough agreements with a former police chief and sergeant, who resigned in exchange for the municipality’s agreement to not discuss complaints about their alleged abusive behavior.

The borough negotiated such agreements with former sergeant Jason Joel and former chief Gary Lowe.

Joel resigned in April 2011 after the department received complaints about Joel sexually harassing women, including co-worker Angie Goodwin. Lowe was placed on administrative leave in March 2013 and resigned the following month following allegations of verbally abusing staff.

The borough has refused to release complaints made against Joel and Lowe.

Schnabel brought the issue up at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, asking if the borough could establish a policy to “refrain from negotiating closed files” so the public could know what is going on.

“It’s harmful when files are closed sometimes,” Schnabel said.

During an interview, Schnabel said it’s “irresponsible” to keep files closed, as the incriminating information remains hidden from future employers as well as the community. “We as leaders have to say, ‘This is where we as a community draw the line.’”

“For me, it would be the policy of the community of Haines to not negotiate with employees who demonstrate a harassing behavior, bullying behavior, theft, any of those things that are indicative of undesirable character, and stand firm to the policy that we will not negotiate,” Schnabel said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott asked Schnabel to write up an explanation of her issue to be put on the July 22 assembly meeting agenda.

In a recent interview, Scott also expressed concern about the deals struck between the borough and employees who leave under clandestine circumstances.

“Of course I see a problem with that,” Scott said of the closed files. “The problem is in the process that the employer needs to go through when an employee is having a problem. It has to be legally and properly documented according to our code and according to the union agreement, and if it is not, then this other strategy (of negotiating nondisclosure agreements in exchange for resignation) is employed.”

It’s not clear whether Lowe ever documented complaints against Joel, as the borough administration won’t comment on the contents of Joel’s personnel file. During former manager Mark Earnest’s tenure, it came to light Earnest hadn’t conducted any performance evaluations of Lowe even though it was required of him.

“I have talked to the manager and said, ‘How can we avoid these situations?’ and he says it is all about documentation by the supervisor of the employee,” Scott said. “They are responsible for documenting in the record problems that an employee has encountered.”

When issues aren’t documented properly, situations like the Lowe negotiation arise, Scott said.

“We were going to fire (Lowe). I believe that is what we were poised to do. And then he offered this other strategy because of the risk to the resources of the borough. If it had gone to litigation, it would have cost us three times that amount. It’s a risk assessment,” Scott said.

“We don’t want to get sued, but we also want to do the right thing,” she added.

Manager David Sosa said in a recent interview the most important action to take in avoiding situations like the Lowe and Joel agreements is appropriately applying personnel policy, particularly when it comes to documenting performance.

Not doing so “puts you in a position to be less able to negotiate something you would want,” Sosa said.

The borough did not seek criminal investigations of Joel or Lowe.