Despite three pending harassment lawsuits, the Sitka Assembly continues to hold off on hiring an outside consultant to investigate the Sitka Police Department (KCAW File Photo).

Despite three pending harassment lawsuits, the Sitka Assembly continues to hold off on hiring an outside consultant to investigate the Sitka Police Department. After hearing an update from the interim police chief, the assembly took no action at their meeting Tuesday (8/13/19).

The assembly first considered an investigation in February, after a third member of the police department filed suit against the city. A subcommittee was created to choose potential investigators for hire, and it brought that list to the assembly table in March. $35,000 was earmarked for the position, but no one was chosen at that time, and he item was again postponed in April.

By August (8/13/19) assembly members still were hesitant to move forward. Mayor Gary Paxton voted against the item when it first came to the table, last spring, and he’s feeling even more confident now that the department has righted itself 

“With the arrival of Chief Baty we, at least I, felt that the police department was able to function properly,” he said.

Robert Baty was offered the full-time position in May, but his title and salary have not come before the assembly for approval. In April, Baty said he wasn’t opposed to the assembly hiring an investigator. But he now feels differently. 

“The progress with the police department has got a bright future,” Baty said. “My view now, if anybody cares to ask, is that I don’t think we need an independent third party to investigate the department. It’s running well within standards, and we’re constantly improving our procedures.”   

Assembly member Kevin Mosher asked if Baty has regularly scheduled training with officers. Baty said he meets with sergeants every Tuesday. And assembly member Richard Wein asked how many hires and fires Baty had made so far during his tenure. Baty said he dismissed one person, but could give no other information. 

During public comment at the end of the meeting, Jackie Ojala, who works at the department as a multi-service officer, said she was happy with the work Baty is doing to lead the department, but she hoped the investigation would still happen. 

“There’s still a feeling of disappointment that it’s been put off for so long and a feeling that things are being swept under the rug,” she said. “Chief Baty and Lieutenant Achee are doing amazing things. But I ask that you think hard about the people that still work at the police department that have not left that are still trying to move on but need closure.”   

Ultimately the assembly took no action regarding the investigation of the police department. Mediation with one of the plaintiffs, former detective Ryan Silva, has been scheduled for September 11. Another former detective suing the department, Mary Ferguson, is scheduled for trial in March of next year. The third plaintiff, former jailer and patrol recruit Noah Shepard, is scheduled for trial in April.

Negotiated union contracts approved

The Sitka Assembly approved the contract terms for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. Assembly member Kevin Mosher said he would vote to approve the contract, but was wary of increasing costs. 

“We have to choose our battles. I understand this was fought for,” Mosher said. “I’m publicly concerned about the increasing cost of mandated raises and the city’s future ability to pay those.” 

Assembly member Valorie Nelson, who attended the meeting via teleconference, said she didn’t think the city could afford the new contract, with negotiated salaries of a little over a dollar hourly each year, closer to $1.50 including payroll costs, for the next three years. All in all, it amounts to an 8 percent increase, around $498,000.

The group approved it 5-2 with assembly members Nelson and Aaron Bean opposed.

In other business…

  • The assembly took another step in the process of hiring a new city administrator.
  • On a 7-0 vote, it approved the recommendations from the assembly “position” subcommittee to hire for several city jobs, including a library assistant, police dispatch and two police officer posts.
  • On second reading, it approved turning over lots 17 and 18 of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park to the city- with the plan to build a secondary water treatment plant on one of the sites. The ordinance passed 4-2 with assembly members Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson opposed.
  • In a 6-0 vote, the group approved Candace Rutledge to an unexpired term on the Historic Preservation Commission.
  • In a 6-0 vote, the group approved the consent agenda, including the renewal of a marijuana cultivation license for Fiberflite, and a $33,000 grant reallocation for the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
  • On a 6-0 vote, it approved several appropriations for FY2019 and FY2020.
  • The group discussed assembly member Valorie Nelson’s plan to attend the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs State Leadership Day
  • The group awarded athletic awards to the Sitka Little League Majors Baseball and Softball All Stars Teams.

Watch the full Sitka Assembly meeting here.