The Haines Public Safety Commission this week decided to scrutinize a portion of a proposed minor offenses ordinance and to hold a public hearing on the police chief hiring process.
The minor offenses ordinance includes a 14-page list of low-level violations and corresponding fines. The ordinance compiles all of the existing minor violations scattered throughout borough code. If approved, it would create a consistent enforcement and appeals process for minor violations.
But a number of residents have called for the ordinance to be combed through and rid of unnecessary violations.
“It’s inconsistent with the charter of the Haines Borough which guarantees freedom without unnecessarily restrictive or arbitrary laws or restrictions and it does not protect against arbitrary prosecutions,” said Brenda Josephson.
At a Government Affairs and Services Committee meeting in June, members agreed to comb through the minor offenses ordinance. But at a following borough assembly meeting, that meeting was postponed. Two public hearings on the ordinance are still scheduled for upcoming borough assembly meetings. The GAS committee meeting has not been rescheduled.
So, the public safety commission is currently the only group that has committed to combing through at least part of the minor offenses list. They voted to go through public safety-related violations. They’ll start that process in a work session at 4 p.m. this Friday, August 21st. Recommendations from them will go to the assembly.
The public safety commission also talked about how to move ahead with recruitment and hiring of a new police chief. Former Police Chief Bill Musser resigned a few months ago, and Interim Chief Robert Griffiths has taken over since then. Griffiths has committed to stay with the Haines police through November.
Public Safety Commission Chair Jim Stanford said he wants to get the public involved in the conversation about hiring a new chief.
“You know I want to hear from the people that support the police department, I also want to hear from the people who are always ragging on the police department, and we have quite a few of those,” said Stanford.
The commission decided to devote their next regular meeting to a public hearing on hiring a new police chief. The commission wants to hear from members of the community before beginning the recruitment process.
Recently, an external audit of the police department from Soldotna-based Russell Consulting was released to the public. The review was request by Borough Manager Dave Sosa. The report is critical of many areas of the police department. It says problems have built up because of a succession of police chiefs that were not effective in leading the department.
Interim Chief Griffiths told the public safety commission that he has been working on a rudimentary schedule for dealing with the issues cited in the audit.
“This plan will hopefully be fleshed out and in full active pursuit when the permanent chief comes in so that that person has a roadmap,” Griffiths said.
Sosa told the planning commission that the problems at the police department came down to culture. He said it’s important to hire a permanent chief and police officers that don’t resist scrutiny.
“Having a department that actively seeks critique and is comfortable with critique and having an individual who will actively seek outside individuals to come in and screen the department is vital,” Sosa said. “There are some individuals who resist that. And we cannot have that.”
The borough is also hiring for two of three police officer positions. Right now, a temporary hire is filling one of the jobs. Sosa says the chief has received a number of police officer applications but they have not hired any of the applicants because they want to ensure new hires are right for the community.
The public hearing on the police chief hiring process is Sept. 2nd at 6 p.m. in the Chilkat Center.