The union representing Haines municipal employees has filed a grievance against the borough on behalf of police officers. The grievance stems from Assemblyman Tom Morphet’s decision to publicize accusations against the police department at an assembly meeting earlier this month.
Morphet gathered accounts of police interactions he had heard about from four different people. All described negative experiences with Haines officers. The accounts allege the police outed a confidential informant, harassed a mentally handicapped person and used aggressive tactics during traffic stops.
Two accounts included the names of officers.
Morphet first brought the allegations to interim borough manager Brad Ryan. But about a week later, he decided to make them public at an assembly meeting.
“This behavior raises legitimate questions about how the police interact with residents here,” Morphet said at the meeting.
He says he released the accounts publically because he is one of three assembly members under threat of recall and doesn’t know how much time he has left in his position.
“I think I would have waited had there not been a recall,” Morphet said. ” I was afraid that if these went to the borough and the police basically gave their side, there would never be a public accounting of this.”
Police Chief Heath Scott and Sgt. Josh Dryden condemned Morphet’s actions. Scott called it ‘disturbingly inappropriate’ and Dryden said he had contacted the Local 71 Union about what he thought was a violation of his employee rights.
Union Representative Tom Brice agreed.
“In my mind this was a clear violation the second [Morphet] brought these complaints out in public after he had already submitted them for investigation,” Brice said. “It’s not an assembly member’s position to go out and harangue the employees.”
Brice sent out a press release Tuesday announcing that he filed a grievance on behalf of the police officers for violation of the employee’s contract.
Brice says borough code and the bargaining agreement are clear that personnel matters are confidential.
“In America, we all have right to due process,” Brice said. “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 disagrees that the complaints he brought to the manager qualify as personnel records. He says the police work for the public in public, and that criticism against them shouldn’t be confined behind closed doors.
“The police have enormous power in our society,” Morphet said. “They wear a badge, they carry guns. I think they’re big guys. They can stand up to a bit of criticism.”
With the filing of a grievance, Brice says the union is asking for a public apology from Morphet, a censure of his actions from the full assembly and possibly training for the assembly on how to deal with personnel issues.
The grievance process starts with discussions between the union and borough manager. If it is not settled, it may move to the mayor and personnel committee. Arbitration is the last resort.
Morphet says he does regret including the names of officers in a couple of the complaints. He says his intention wasn’t to initiate a ‘witch hunt’ against certain officers, but to start a conversation about how police are treating the public.