So, here we sit, a year to the day after city Fire Chief Mark Hall got wrapped up in something at the Hotel Captain Cook. It ended after a police officer was summoned. A report was written, but we still do not know whether Hall was disciplined -- or whether he did anything to warrant being disciplined.
The administration -- one I have supported, so all of this is bothersome -- assiduously has covered up. It is a personnel matter, officials harumph. Mayor Dan Sullivan assures us it's not worth talking about. "Appropriate measures," he says, were taken. For what? Jaywalking? Murder? Mopery?
Without rehashing details, the story is that Hall was at the hotel Oct. 30 last year and helped firefighters assisting a woman who, it turns out, was drunk. Or something. A police officer was summoned. She described Hall in her report as intoxicated but not incapacitated; that he was yelling and poking his finger in her face as events unfolded.
Hall later called her a liar -- making her life tougher in court -- and, while he was on a tear, denigrated a senior fire captain trying to smooth over the mess. Hall beefed the cop to her bosses; they investigated and exonerated her.
The Anchorage Daily Planet and other media have tried to determine what, if any, discipline Hall received, to no avail -- which is odd. After an earlier incident involving Hall, in which he asked that a Jewel Lake station fire truck be sent to pick up his daughter at Dimond High School, his slap on the hand was quite public. There was no "personnel matter" smokescreen.
Then, there is the recent mishap involving Police Chief Mark Mew, whose vehicle bumped the car ahead of him at an intersection while he was distracted by his telephone. Mew publicly was pilloried and reprimanded. None of that "personnel matter" rot in his case, either. He heads one of the city's biggest departments, and his life should be an open book. That, apparently, does not apply to Hall.
You might think the Assembly would dive in. After all, the fire department has a large budget and is in the hugely dangerous business of saving lives and property. Character and judgment would seem a vital ingredient to direct such an enterprise. You would think after the fire truck escapade and whatever happened at the hotel, there might be questions. But since twisting itself into a pretzel "waiving" city nepotism rules to allow Hall's appointment by Sullivan, there has not been a peep.
Some of us wonder: If Hall's earlier reprimand, a firing offense in many places, and Mew's are public fare, why is the aftermath of the hotel incident -- one requiring a police report, for crying out loud -- subject to the Big Hush? The city's reluctance would pique anybody's interest. Who is being protected?
The Planet's lawyers in June -- again in July and September -- asked for details about the Oct. 30 incident and what followed, including any "determination regarding disciplinary action, including memoranda, recommendations, letters, or warnings, issued as a result of the above incident, as well as any record of measures taken by the Municipality as a result of or in response to such incident, or the lack thereof. ..." The lawyers cited court cases that, to a layman, seemed to indicate the "personnel matter" rules are a little different for the officials on top who make decisions, and, of course, there was a lot of lawyer stuff.
While the city has polished inconsistency to a high shine, it has turned the slow roll into an art form. We waited. And waited. After months, we got this in a brief letter, citing no case law, but thanking us for our patience:
"We are of the opinion that disclosure of the records you seek is not required under the Anchorage Municipal Code, AMC 3.90.040. Personnel matters, such as those you refer in your request, are confidential and not subject to release under the Public Records Ordinance."
Bada Bing, Bada Boom. Take that. "Not required," the city lawyer says. The one-page missive -- best described as not showing much for being four months in the making -- was copied to Mew, whose transgression and comeuppance were plastered all over the city. Ah, the irony.
Which brings us back to the questions likely to pop up in court or the upcoming election: Who is the city covering for?
Hall, for doing something?
Or Sullivan, for doing nothing?
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.