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Unalaska city council stages sit-in over Shockley's survey

September 2nd 2:08 am | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

Unalaska Deputy Police Chief Jennifer Shockley, after writing an anonymous online survey asking who should be kicked off the city council, then had to boot a group of her supporters out of the city council chambers when they refused to leave last week.

The 10-question survey was written using Survey Monkey, an online tool. It asked if the public approved of each city council member and mayor, by name. It asked if respondents thought the elected officials were acting more in community interest, or their own self interest. Also, "If you could replace just one member of City Council today, who would it be? "

Shockley said she did nothing wrong, as the survey was written on her own time and was allowable free speech.

Nevertheless, rumors circulated that the city manager was directed to take disciplinary action against Shockley during an earlier closed-door executive session.

City Manager David Martinson denied that he was pressured to discipline her in retaliation for the survey, saying that's not the council's job. But he did say councilmembers were very interested in the survey itself, and that somehow one of them knew who the author was, despite the anonymous posting on Facebook. He declined to say who knew she did it, or how that was learned.

At last week's meeting, the council voted to go into executive session to discuss the city manager's contract, for the second time in a month. Shockley was attending the meeting as the ranking public safety official, which also made her the sergeant at arms, in charge of responding to any disorders.

A few minutes after the executive session started, she was called into the chambers by councilmember John Waldron. Shockley said she found a group of 10 people refusing to leave, but who finally evacuated after she asked them a second time, and explained that the council had the right to meet in closed session. The state open-meetings law allows closed-door meeting for certain issues, including personnel. Otherwise, the meetings are public.

The protesters included Michelle Cochran, Alysha Richardson, Roger Deffendal, Christine Chamberlain and Shari Coleman, she said.

City Councilmember Roger Rowland later said the protesters acted very politely, sitting silently while not budging after the mayor asked them to leave, and said he could only hear Shockley tell them that if they didn't leave they would be "trespassed from the building."

Prior to the executive session in the packed city council room, members of the public criticized the council. Mayor Kelty limited comments to two minutes each, and said city rules prohibit the council from discussing personnel issues openly.

City Human Resources Manager Kelly Stiles said "morale is suffering" among the city's 150 employees.

City Hall worker Debi Zueger defended the right of an employee to conduct a survey without fear of retribution, calling it "our First Amendment right to say what we want to say." And Zueger supported City Manager Martinson, saying that two closed-door sessions to discuss his contract were very unusual.

Martinson, she said, is the "best city manager we've ever had," adding, "it would be a shame if we lost him."

When the council came out of executive session, Kelty announced that the manager's existing contract remained in effect. City Attorney Brooks Chandler participated in the executive session from out of town.

The deputy police chief received a round of applause from the audience and councilmembers, after Shari Coleman announced Shockley had been appointed to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission by Gov. Bill Walker.

Martinson did not attend last week's meeting because he was away on vacation. He returned later in the week, and would only say he was awaiting further information from the council.

In other news, seven candidates are running for three seats on the city council, including all the incumbents. Incumbent John Waldron is opposed by former councilmember Dennis Robinson. Rachelle Hatfield, appointed to a vacancy last year, faces a challenge from Shari Coleman. Incumbent Yudelka Leclere has two opponents: Jeffrey Treannie and James Fitch.

Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin@reportalaska.com.

 

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