Kopp steps down as Public Safety chief

July 25, 2008 

Public Safety Commissioner Chuck Kopp resigned Friday afternoon after a tumultuous two weeks on the job.

In a brief news conference with Gov. Sarah Palin in her Anchorage office late in the afternoon, Kopp said he was stepping down effective immediately. Kopp, appointed to replace former Commissioner Walt Monegan on July 11, said recent scrutiny of a 2005 sexual harassment complaint has made it too hard to be the state's top cop.

"This has caused me to be unable to bring my full focus to the mission of this department that the welfare of so many Alaskans depend on," he said.

Kopp and Palin entered the governor's conference room, read their statements, then departed three minutes later. Neither Kopp nor the governor would answer questions after reading from their prepared notes.

"We're going to move forward now," Palin said. "This has been brutal on a good family."

Deputy commissioner John Glass will be acting commissioner of the department that oversees state troopers, the crime lab, wildlife enforcement and fire prevention, Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said later.

"The recent media firestorm has been detrimental to the Department of Public Safety mission, the citizens of Alaska and my family," Kopp said. "While I have been portrayed in a negative light, my personal worth is found in the person of Jesus Christ, and not on the one who accepts or rejects me."

Said Palin: "This has been a tumultuous week in the Department of Public Safety, and as your governor, I apologize.

"This is in the best interest of Alaska at this point."

Reached late Friday, Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers, said: "This week has been difficult on the men and women in Alaska and the Department of Public Safety. We are happy that John Glass has been named as the acting commissioner so that we can regain some semblance of stability."

And, he added: "We will continue to put our jobs first, regardless of political fluctuations."

Questions to Palin's office went unanswered Friday about how her staff checked Kopp's background, why they concluded the sexual harassment complaint was unsubstantiated, as well as whether there were any terms between the governor and Kopp over his departure.

LONG MEETINGS WITH PALIN

Kopp's decision to resign came after spending hours with the governor Friday. Thursday night, asked if he was considering stepping down, he said: "No, not at all. I've had an enormous outpouring of support from people across Alaska, from people down in Juneau right now, from people in the Anchorage Bowl area, from southwest Alaska in the Bristol Bay Borough and in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, and, of course, the Kenai Peninsula and Southeast Alaska. It's been a nonstop stream of support. I'm very encouraged. Things are going well at work."

"I'm positive and I'm encouraged," he said Thursday night.

Kopp came under increasing scrutiny from the governor after he acknowledged this week that a 2005 sexual harassment complaint while he was chief of Kenai Police resulted in a letter of reprimand from the city. The governor learned of the reprimand when the public did during a press conference that Kopp held Tuesday.

Before then, she had thought the complaint was found unsubstantiated.

Palin appointed Kopp to the state's top cop job the same day she fired Monegan, on Friday, July 11. She announced his appointment the next Monday.

At a press conference the following day to talk about the new direction of Public Safety, the press pounded Kopp with questions about a sexual harassment complaint that surfaced at the same time his appointment was made public. Under visible stress, Kopp said he did not have a history of sexual harassment complaints against him and that no complaint ever resulted in a lawsuit against the city or himself.

This week, he said he was sideswiped with the questions and didn't know how to answer them without the advice of an attorney who knows about releasing personnel information.

Kopp followed up that press conference with the one on Tuesday, where he admitted the investigation into the complaint resulted in a letter of reprimand. The letter was removed from his record last year under a deal he made with the city if no other complaints were filed against him.

WARNING IGNORED

Palin did not say who she plans to put in the commissioner's post. Whoever it is will need to be confirmed by the Legislature.

The complainant in the Kenai sexual harassment case, a former assistant to Kopp, e-mailed the governor's office on July 13 that:

"My employment at Kenai Police Department ended after my sexual harassment complaint against Chief Kopp was acknowledged, validated, but ultimately dealt with ineffectively by the City of Kenai."

She offered to show her files.

No one from the governor's office contacted the woman, though, and Palin announced Kopp got the job the next day. Several days later, the woman called the governor's office asking officials again to look into it, she said.

The firing of Kopp does not end Palin's woes with the Department of Public Safety. Legislators are still calling for an inquiry as to why she fired Monegan in the first place. Former political rival Andrew Halcro has accused her of firing Monegan because he would not carry out a personal vendetta she had against a trooper locked in a bitter child-custody battle with her younger sister.


Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.

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