Angoon comes close to losing only safety officer

Village cop says city not holding up its end of employment contract

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

For the second time in a month, Angoon's city government is having trouble paying its bills. This time it nearly cost the town its Village Public Safety Officer.

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Since taking over as Angoon's VPSO last October, Charlie Hartzell has nearly lost his home twice because the city didn't pay the rent as agreed. He suffered the winter without adequate office heat, obtained gas donations for his patrol car and went without proper office equipment to run his solo public safety operation, he said.

"When you don't have the support by those who wanted you here in the first place, it makes the job difficult," Hartzell said.

City officials refused to explain their side of the story, simply saying the town would keep its VPSO after discussions this week.

According to Hartzell, the city of Angoon has failed to meet its contractual obligations with Kodiak Area Native Association, or KANA.

He said the city of Angoon is responsible for maintaining his housing and office as part of the deal that provides emergency services to the isolated Native island community, about 55 miles south of Juneau.

"Basically, if the city doesn't live up to the contract, KANA will pull me out," Hartzell said.

Tuesday, KANA's VPSO coordinator Valent Maxwell, flew to Angoon to meet with city officials to work out any disagreements in an attempt to keep Hartzell in Angoon.

Maxwell was not reachable by phone Thursday.

Hartzell said the meeting went "fairly well."

Mayor Walter Jack and Councilman Ed Gamble Sr. promised to pay for the housing and provide the proper support, Hartzell said. For now, Angoon will keep its VPSO.

"I'm here so people can get a good night sleep," Hartzell said.

Gamble said he made no agreements with Maxwell or Hartzell on Tuesday. "All we did was talk."

It remains unclear how much money the city has failed to pay in support of its public safety officer.

When asked if he promised to fix the housing and office issues, Gamble, an elected public official, said he was not at liberty to talk to the press.

"I have to first check with the tribal government," he said.

Gamble also would not comment about supplying the VPSO with gas for his car, Internet service to file court documents and heat for the office.

"I have to keep my mouth shut and defer all comments to the mayor," he said.

Jack, the mayor, would only say that the VPSO is not leaving.

When asked about the city's failure to pay for housing and office support, Jack said, "I have no comment for you." He quickly hung up the phone.

Since the late 1970s, VPSO personnel across the state have served as the first responders to public safety issues in their villages. They are cops, firemen and emergency services personnel wrapped into one package. Funding is provided by the Alaska Legislature. State police oversee the program.

"He is the only one out there," said Sgt. Robert Cox, supervisor of the Alaska State Troopers' post in Juneau. Cox oversees Hartzell's post for the state police.

Before Hartzell's arrival, Angoon went for at least a year without a VPSO. Cox said the community suffered because the simple presence of law enforcement reduces crime.

"It's a huge plus for the community to have him there," Cox said.

Cox reflected on the city's failure to honor its agreement with KANA: "(Charlie) was going to be kicked out of his house."

Hartzell said he held no grudge against the city for the trouble he and his family have been through.

"I believe they have no funds available," said Hartzell.

For now, the issue is on hold as Hartzell and KANA wait to see if city officials cover their end of the deal to provide some form of law and emergency services to their village.

"Angoon needs me," Hartzell said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258or

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