It’s a wild world of complaint-vs-complaint in the Adventure Capital of Alaska — Haines.
A borough Assembly member lodged a very public complaint against the police department on April 11.
The union that represents Haines police officers yesterday filed a formal grievance against the Assembly member for violating personnel rules.
The police officers’ grievance is against Haines Borough Assemblyman Tom Morphet, who earlier this month read aloud in a public assembly meeting several accusations he had gathered concerning police officers’ behavior.
Morphet named the officers by name and detailed complaints against them, painting a picture of a department that harasses people and is overbearing in enforcing traffic laws.
Morphet is one of three Haines Assembly members who is now the subject of a recall petition for allegedly violating open meetings rules. While this controversy is separate, it may influence the outcome of any special recall election, should it be approved.
Haines Police Chief Heath Scott, who has been on the job for less than a year, disapproved of the tactics Morphet used, calling them “inappropriate.”
The right way for an elected official to handle a complaint against a police officer, he said, is to first take the complaint to the chief, then to the borough manager, and then to the Assembly personnel committee. It should not start by disparaging public employees in an open meeting.
One of the police officers contacted the Public Employees Local 71 about what he believes is a violation of his employee rights.
The union agreed.
“Both the contract and borough code ensures confidentiality of personnel matters,” said Tom Brice, Business Representative of Local 71, based in Juneau.
“That’s a longstanding concept at the state level and at the Haines Borough level. The second he started to aggrandize these complaints publicly is the second he violated both the borough code and the contract,” Brice said.
“To smear them as a neo-military outfit is a one-sided and unbalanced characterization of what occurred,” — Tom Brice
The union is asking for a couple of remedies. One is a public apology and censure by the Assembly. Secondly, the union wants a review of the training for Assembly members as it pertains to employees and how to ensure issues are raised “without undermining the effectiveness of the personnel,” said Brice.
Morphet brought his list of complaints to the borough’s interim manager Brad Ryan on a April 6. But by the following Tuesday, he decided not to wait for an investigation, but to put his allegations on the record in the Assembly’s regular meeting.
As of yesterday, the borough has hired a new manager: Longtime resident Deborah Schnabel, executive director of the Haines Chamber of Commerce. She will be tasked with sorting out the union complaint and remedy process. Schnabel is the 15th borough manager in 13 years.
Morphet stated publicly that he brought the complaint out into the open during the public meeting because he felt he’d be recalled soon and this might be his last chance. But Morphet also owns the local newspaper, the Chilkat Valley News, which provides him with ample opportunity to write about Haines public affairs, and allows him broad influence over public opinion.
“In America, we all have right to due process,” Brice told public radio station KHNS. “What that means is that if an employee has complaints lodged against them, they have the right to address those complaints. Using the assembly chambers to attack a department in the manner that occurred on April 11 was just wrong. It’s demoralizing, it’s unethical. And frankly it violates code and contract.”
Morphet was at the forefront in firing the last city manager, Bill Seward. He said: “Mr. Seward has made continuous missteps that reflect his judgment and diligence are not at the caliber required to do this job effectively. Moreover, I do not believe these skills can be taught,” according to KHNS audio.