Whittier’s Executive Session: Girdwood Policing
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
The majority of Whittier City Council’s September meeting happened during executive session. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics, public discussion could adversely affect city finances. The four topics in the session were the water system electrical upgrade, the new Public Safety Building, Girdwood policing contracts and the Whittier Manor lease.
The Gazette later spoke with Whittier Mayor Daniel Blair about the results of the executive session regarding policing contracts. Blair said that an interim policing contract with Girdwood would not be possible until Oct. 15.
“The Whittier Chief of Police is on vacation,” Blair said. “He had that scheduled in early July, so he had no idea that it was going to take so long. He did not want to start the contract without being physically present. I have to say that I agree with the delay. It has allowed the public go full circle and come to the realization that this is going to be okay.”
With Alaska State Troopers leaving their Girdwood post after Sept. 30, the town will be left without any policing except for a major emergency. Troopers would be dispatched from Anchorage, Seward or Cooper Landing. If an interim contract is agreed upon, it would provide policing for Girdwood from Oct. 15 until a three-year, $619,000 a year contract is signed. Neither Whittier nor Girdwood wants to rush the long-term contract process.
“From their actions,” Blair said, “I get the perception that they see this Whittier offer on the table as the best solution Girdwood is going to get, and they want to see them get it. We were informed where they were, and I think Council is willing to give them time to do that to keep working on the contract. There will probably be an interim contract to take up the slack, much along the guidelines of the Forest Fair.”
An interim contract would not provide as much coverage as a long-term contract and would rely on the officers Whittier currently has. The department is unable to hire new officers until a long-term contract is finalized. One of the difficulties of the contract process is that it is a three-way negotiation between Anchorage, Whittier and Girdwood, since the latter is part of the Municipality. Blair said Anchorage was doing its best but has its own agenda.
“The contract is still in a state of flux, and it’s complicated,” Blair said. “The Girdwood situation is unique. I perceive them as a city, but they’re in the Anchorage Municipality. Instead of dealing directly with Girdwood, we’re dealing with the city attorney of Anchorage [Bill Falsey]. It’s not exactly as if two communities talk head to head.”
Due to the uncertainty over the policing contracts, City Manager Mark Lynch has written two budgets, one with Girdwood policing and one without. During the meeting he said, “Obviously the biggest change will be, if we end up doing Girdwood, a significant change in expenditures and revenues for the police department.”
During the public discussion portion of the meeting, the Gazette asked questions about the policing contracts and the lunch Whittier and Girdwood officials had at Chair 5 the day before the council meeting.
Gazette: “I learned yesterday at Girdwood Board of Supervisors meeting that you [Mayor Daniel Blair] and City Manager Mark Lynch had lunch with Municipal Liaison Kyle Kelley and Supervisor Sam Daniel. I am wondering if you can tell the public anything about that meeting that you will not discuss in Executive Session later.”
Blair: “It went well.”
Gazette: “How so?”
Lynch: “We discussed some sticking points on the contract, and Mr. Daniel assured me he would work within the community and their legal counsel to try resolve those issues. That’s all I can tell you at this time. It’s all still under negotiation.”
Gazette: “I noticed in the notes here [Whittier City Council packet] that there is still a lot of negative commentary in Girdwood regarding policing. I’m wondering if you can reference anything specific or where that information came from because that contradicts what I’ve learned recently.”
Lynch: “All I’ll say is if anybody has been paying attention, they will know where the comments are coming from. I’m not going to name names. I wrote this report a week ago, so a lot has apparently happened since then.”