Council members, public air concerns over Hoonah police chief contract

    Hoonah Police Chief Eric Hurtado

    Hoonah, Alaska (KINY) - The City of Hoonah will hold a special meeting to address the employment contract and personnel review of Hoonah Police Chief Eric Hurtado.

    The date and time of the meeting will likely be announced this week.

    During a lengthy Committee Acting As a Whole debate on Thursday, regarding a contract offered to Hurtado by Hoonah Mayor Gerald Byers, members of the city council and residents of Hoonah spoke up in favor of the chief -- and against what some called a lack of transparency by city administration.

    The debate stems from a contract offered to Hurtado by Byers, as well as an employment review of the chief's work.

    City Administrator Dennis Gray told the council, "We have given an offer to the chief."

    Gray added that the city was waiting for a response from Hurtado. That elicited questions from the council, namely member Amelia Wilson.

    "I'm wondering why the council didn't get to see the contract," Wilson said.

    Council member Shawn McConnell said he had received a copy of the contract, even though one had not yet been submitted for the official record.

    "The attorney detailed the few changes made to the contract this go-around in terms of the salary, renewal date, and things like that," McConnell said. "So, I guess we haven't gotten a copy, for the record."

    Hurtado then addressed the council, saying he would not accept the contract as written, especially in light of what he calls a negative employment review by the mayor.

    "I've been here two years and I would love to be here longer, I still want to be here longer, but not with the different stipulations that were added into the contract, which includes an evaluation that basically is two sentences of ... what's good about the chief," Hurtado said. "Apparently, a couple people think that I'm not a good fit. For me to accept the contract that says, and coincides and connects with the evaluation that says, we can fire the chief for this, and fire the chief for this, and fire the chief for this, and terminate, terminate, terminate. No, I'm not going to accept that contract. I was ready to enter into talks with the city. And it's not the money. It's the stipulations that are put here there. A couple days after I sign the contract, I probably won't be here because there will be something that I do that management can say, 'Oh, he did this...'"

    Wilson then asked for the evaluation to be provided to the council, which elicited a response from the audience, saying, "Can this be made public? We put our trust in the chief. He's become part of the community. He's done more for our community in the last two years ... than any other chief that I know ... how many cops have we lost in the last five years?"

    Wilson said the council not having access to the contract or evaluation is a deviation from the process in Hoonah city government.

    "[It's] part of our code that the council confirms the hire or fire of our chief, and so to not have the evaluation or the contract put before the council, or even shared at all, I think is is not following the process," Wilson said. "I think that what we've been trying to do as a council is support the chief, and support the process."

    One of the items in Hurtado's employment evaluation states that the chief disregards overtime and staffing issues when it comes to officers and dispatchers.

    Hoonah Department of Public Safety Dispatcher Becky Hunnicutt responded to that assertion.

    "We are understaffed," Hunnicutt said "All our officers, including chief, work their butts off, day and night. They're basically working 24/7. Even on their days off, they get called in by dispatchers, because we need them. They need backup. We have three officers, and we need more. And [Hurtado] working overtime? We're understaffed; of course, he's going to be working overtime, all our officers are going to be working overtime. As dispatchers, we are watching them be stressed out and overwhelmed with filling in these gaps, in these missing officers that we could have in the station. So, I just want everybody in this community to know that we are understaffed, and our officers work nonstop, even on their days off."

    In his evaluation, the mayor said he had received complaints from department heads and citizens.

    Hunnicutt, in response to additional claims that the mayor had spoken to dispatchers and police officers regarding Hurtado's evaluation, said, "It's my understanding that city council doesn't even have his review. So, it is all in the dark between two people, putting in a review on a man that the entire community wants, and city council themselves is left in the dark? What's in his review? He mentioned that there's less than one page of good things spoken about him, but then several pages of negative things. Who who's putting in all this negative stuff? Is it just the two of you? Or do you guys have some secret force out there that's feeding you guys information? Because I don't recall any of the dispatchers or other police officers being asked about him and his performance at work. So, apparently, in your review of him, those who work under him, we're not even involved in this review."

    The mayor responded by saying he had interviewed past dispatchers and police officers regarding Hurtado.

    News of the North has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the City of Hoonah for documents related to Byers' review of Hurtado.

     

    More from News of the North