Robert Griffiths of Oregon is the new interim Haines police chief. (Photo courtesy R. Griffiths.)

Robert Griffiths of Oregon is the new interim Haines police chief. (Photo courtesy R. Griffiths.)

The Haines Borough has hired an interim chief to lead the Haines police while the borough searches for a permanent hire.

Robert Griffiths of Oregon will be the Haines Police Chief for six months, pending a background check.

Griffiths previously served as chief of police in Cordova, resigning in 2013 to sail from the east coast to Oregon to settle near family. Griffiths writes in his cover letter for the job that a former colleague recommended the interim position to him. That colleague is Greg Russell, who was hired by the borough recently to conduct a study and review of the Haines police department.

Borough staff interviewed two people for the interim position. Borough manager Dave Sosa then asked the public safety commission to weigh in on the results of those interviews and they recommended Griffiths as their top choice.

That process pleased public safety chair Jim Stanford.

“I think the procedure that was followed this year was more like the procedure that we want to follow in the future when we’re hiring a police chief or something like that,” Stanford said. “It’s as if Mr. Sosa is attempting to include everyone in the decision.”

The public safety commission previously made recommendations about police chief hires that were not followed by borough staff. Stanford says he’s excited for the public to take a more active roll in the hire for interim and eventually, the permanent chief position.

“It’s life in a fishbowl, isn’t it? People are watching your every move, so it’s behooves us to include everybody in this process so everybody has a say in what type of person we want in this position because is it a very powerful position.”

Griffiths says in his application that the Cordova police department had many similarities to Haines’ department. He says he faced challenges like rebuilding strained relations with the community, a small staff and tackling Cordova’s drug problem. He says he also instituted recruiting, testing, screening and training programs for new officers.

Griffiths also served with the Anchorage PD patrol and investigations units climbing up the ranks to a lieutenant position.

Stanford says the public safety commission was impressed by both finalists for the jobs, especially since they both had Alaska experience. But Griffiths got the commission’s vote.

“A very experienced man who doesn’t want the permanent job, which everybody kind of agreed was a good thing so that if the man saw changes that could be made in a positive way, there was not interference with those changes, so it was a win-win for everyone.”

Sosa told the assembly Tuesday he chose to go with an interim hire to get a qualified person in place to provide stability while the borough does a more thorough search for a permanent chief. Current Haines Chief Bill Musser is on the job through May.

The assembly Tuesday also confirmed the hiring of Shawn Bell for harbormaster and Brian Lemcke as interim public facilities director.

Borough Budget

Next year’s budget was introduced at the meeting, meaning it was the first time assembly members could suggest any significant changes to it. There were no amendments or changes floated, but assembly member George Campbell asked his peers to consider the borough’s priorities as they work through the budget process. He said those priorities are fixing the waste water treatment plant and the Lutak Dock – both of which he says are “collapsing around our ears.”

“Before we fund $400,000 for the library, $200,000 for the museum, $200,000-plus to the swimming pool and various other things we’re looking at doing, I’d like everyone to sit back and think ‘If we take 25 percent of each of those budgets and put toward our waste water treatment plant, how would that help us?’”

After the meeting, Campbell said he wasn’t necessarily going to propose those types of funding cuts for some services. But he said he wants the budget to emphasize health and safety in the community.

“Anything that is  not a revenue generator in our community and things that are – and I understand are quality of life – but I believe the priorities when they are things for actual health and safety issues in our community, I think we need to look at do we fund our health and safety issues? Because I don’t see the budget addressing that.”

The budget will come up for discussion again at the next assembly meeting.