New public safety commissioner resigns

Kopp steps down shortly after disclosure about 2005 sexual harassment complaint against him

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008

Public Safety Commissioner Chuck Kopp resigned Friday, just two weeks after being named to the job.

Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

The resignation came one day after Gov. Sarah Palin said she had not known that Kopp, as chief of the Kenai Police Department, had received a letter of reprimand that stemmed from a sexual harassment complaint.

The disclosures caused Kopp to lose credibility with some lawmakers, including one from Kenai, where he had been in the police department for 19 years.

Kopp and Palin on Friday made brief statements at the resignation announcement in Anchorage but took no questions.

"This has caused me to be unable to bring my full focus to the mission of this department that the welfare of all Alaskans depend on," Kopp said. "The Department of Public Safety employees represent the very finest of Alaskans and the recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department Public Safety mission, to the citizens of Alaska and my family."

Palin said the week has "been brutal on a good family, a good Alaskan family."

"This has been a tumultuous week in the Department of Public Safety and as your governor I apologize," she said. "This is in the best interest of Alaska at this point. Mr. Kopp, I respect you and I respect your decision today."

Kopp was hired to replace Walt Monegan, who was fired July 11. Monegan, a former Anchorage police chief, claims he does not know why he was fired.

Some state lawmakers want to know if Monegan was dismissed for failing to fire a trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin's sister.

Palin appointed Kopp to the post July 14, saying she wanted the department to go in a new direction.

As attention on Monegan eased this week, Palin learned that her new hire had been reprimanded as a result of the harassment claim.

Kopp called a news conference Tuesday and said the accusation by the employee he supervised in 2005 as Kenai police chief and acting city manager took him by surprise.

He was reprimanded for hugging her several times, he said, and on one occasion, when she was experiencing neck pain, applying direct pressure to her neck with his thumbs.

In response to the complaint, city officials had the woman report to a different supervisor.

Kopp denied he sexually harassed the woman. He appealed the reprimand and, with no other complaints filed in two years, the letter was removed from his personnel file, he said.

This prompted Kopp to say, "My record is clean. The whole intent of the appeal is that I did not want a mark on my record."

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Kopp created a credibility problem for himself by not disclosing the reprimand to the governor.

"It's still a little hard for me to analyze this, but the big thing is, does he have credibility to run the Department of Public Safety?" French said. "The answer most are coming up with is no."

Before the late afternoon resignation announcement, Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, said it would be a good idea if Kopp stepped down. Wagoner said news of the reprimand letter added to the problems surrounding the position.

"With this whole Monegan deal, it just kind of puts a bad light on everything," Wagoner said. "It hasn't been a good thing."

Wagoner said he liked Kopp's work as Kenai's chief and hoped he would be able to return to the city in some capacity.

"He did an excellent job," Wagoner said. "There are some of my constituents who have some complaints, but that's just part of the job of being chief of police.

"I'm not in a position to judge. He's got one year left to fulfill his retirement. I would think and hope he would be able to go back to Kenai. He would continue to do a good job as chief of police there."

Meanwhile, a prospective investigation into Monegan's firing still looms.

Lawmakers never questioned Palin's authority to fire Monegan, saying commissioners serve at will, meaning they can be fired by Palin at any time.

But they want to know how much pressure Palin's administration put on Monegan to fire Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law.

In a news conference Monday, Palin said bring it on.

"I've said all along, 'Hold me accountable,"' she said. "I'm telling the truth when I say, there was never pressure put upon Commissioner Monegan."

The Legislative Council, made up of seven lawmakers each from the House and Senate, is expected to call for an independent investigator to research whether the firing was for personal reasons. The council will meet Monday.

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