Wasilla rec director, accused of drinking on duty, resigns

Zaz Hollander

Former Palmer Mayor John Combs resigned as Wasilla's recreation and cultural services director Wednesday after someone reported him as a possible drunken driver after the Tuesday Night Fights.

Combs tendered his resignation as of about 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to an email sent to the Wasilla City Council from Mayor Verne Rupright.

Earlier in the day, Rupright had suspended Combs without pay after someone saw him drinking at least three beers while working the Tuesday fight event at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center, the mayor said by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Rupright said Wasilla police notified him about 12:30 a.m. that the Alaska State Troopers had pulled over Combs after someone reported him as a possible drunk driver.

The call came after Combs left the sports center, one of several city facilities under Combs' jurisdiction, along with the city library and museum.

Combs was "on duty" during the event, as is the mayor's policy at all events where beer and wine are served, Rupright said.

Combs could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

A trooper took Combs into custody on a suspected DUI, according to Rupright's email. A breath sample was taken, and his blood alcohol content was estimated at .06, which is under the .08 limit for driving after consuming alcohol.

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said she didn't have any additional information about the Report Every Drunk Driver Immediately, or REDDI, report that came in on Combs.

Rupright said the report "obviously" came from someone who recognized the department director.

No charges had been filed against Combs as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a state courts database.

Rupright told the council he suspended Combs over his potential violation of city policy that bans drinking on duty. Rupright wanted to interview other staff working the fights before making a final decision.

"My concern is not necessarily the issue of DUI since it does not appear that was in fact the case, but that of consuming while on duty," Rupright wrote in an email. "The city policy is quite clear on the matter, hence the immediate suspension. I have spoken to Mr. Combs and he understands the full ramifications of the matter."

Combs served two terms as Palmer's mayor and also spent time on the city council. His wife, Linda, is a Palmer city council member who narrowly lost her bid to unseat incumbent mayor DeLena Johnson in Oct. 1 local elections.

The Combs resignation marks the latest in a string of alcohol-fueled problems for Wasilla city figures.

Voters last year recalled council member Steve Menard after he trashed a Sitka hotel room while attending a conference in 2011, leaving a mess that included vomit and urine and a $350 bill the city had to pay before he could check out. Menard said he'd sought help for his drinking.

In March, late city council member Steven Lovell was arrested for driving under the influence in the parking lot of a local bar. Lovell died in a heavy equipment accident in June.

In May, Anchorage police arrested Wasilla police Lt. Jean Achee for driving under the influence after someone called 911 to report an erratic driver.

City council members expressed their frustration with the Combs incident and the way it reflects on Wasilla.

"Our residents deserve better," said city council member Colleen Sullivan-Leonard. "We've had DUIs. We've had REDDI calls. We've had a Wasilla lieutenant let go. You know what? Enough is enough. I'm truly upset."

The Menard Center has struggled financially in recent years since it opened in 2005. The center's total operating revenues peaked at $728,000 in 2007 and dropped to the lowest level, $544,000, in 2011, according to a July report from Wasilla finance director Troy Tankersley.

Total operating expenses, however, swelled from $789,000 in 2005 to $1,169,000, a 49 percent increase.

Council member Brandon Wall has publicly stated his desire to eliminate Combs' position as unnecessary. Combs earned just less than $90,000 a year, according to Rupright.

"It's unfortunate that this is one more thing that kind of brings drama to Wasilla," Wall said Wednesday. "We're really trying to keep it drama free."

Rupright said he had no immediate plans to replace Combs.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.