Friday, July 25, 2008
Assailed By Mounting Criticism On All Sides, Alaska Department Of Public Safety Commissioner Charles Kopp Resigns
On July 25th, 2008, the Anchorage Daily News reports that during a brief news conference with Gov. Sarah Palin in her Anchorage office, Public Safety Commissioner Charles Kopp announced his resignation from the position. Kopp, who replaced former Commissioner Walt Monegan nearly two weeks ago, said recent scrutiny of a 2005 sexual harassment complaint has been too hard on his family. No permanent replacement was announced, although Deputy Commissioner John Glass will become acting commissioner, and neither Kopp nor Governor Palin would answer questions. Story just now posted by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, KTUU Channel 2, and further discussed on the ADN's Alaska Politics blog, HERE and HERE. Videos of both Kopp's and Palin's statements posted HERE. KTUU video embedded below:
Palin appointed Kopp to the state's top cop job the same day she fired Monegan, on Friday July 11th. She announced his appointment on Monday July 14th. Kopp's problems began the very next day. At a press conference on July 15th, the press queried Kopp about a 2005 sexual harassment complaint after rumors began circulating. At the time, Kopp said he did not have a history of sexual harassment complaints against him and that no complaint ever resulted in a lawsuit against the city or himself. Governor Palin indicated she was aware of the situation but that Kopp told her the complaint was "unsubstantiated".
However, the existence of a letter of reprimand given to Kopp over the incident soon became public. Finally, on Tuesday July 22nd, Kopp admitted the investigation into the complaint resulted in a letter of reprimand. However, the letter was removed from his record two years later (2007) under a deal he made with the city if no other complaints were filed against him. Governor Palin learned of the reprimand at the same time, and expressed disappointment. It made it look as if she knew he was a sexual harasser but hired him anyway.
Nevertheless, because it appeared that Kopp was dodging, ducking, weaving, and prevaricating, pressure for Kopp's departure continued to mount. On July 23rd, KTUU Channel 2's unofficial survey of viewers showed that 65 percent believed he was ineffective and should resign. And on July 24th, the Anchorage Daily News editorially told the Palin Administration that Charles Kopp needed to go, citing integrity as the primary issue, and claiming that Kopp's varying and ambiguous accounts of the 2005 sexual harassment incident have irreversibly compromised his professional integrity.
Then early on July 25th, while Kopp was meeting with Governor Palin, his own state senator, Tom Wagoner (R-Kenai), called for Kopp to resign. Faced with opposition on so many fronts, Kopp, after a prolonged meeting with Governor Palin, finally decided to call it quits. And not a moment too soon - another unscientific poll currently being conducted by KTUU Channel 2 shows that 64 percent of respondents believe that the Kopp saga has undermined the Palin Administration.
Aftermath: On July 30th, Charles Kopp announced that he will not seek to be reinstated as Kenai Police Chief. City Manager Rick Koch was willing to consider him.
Commentary: The mere fact that Charles Kopp had a substantiated but resolved sexual harassment complaint alone did NOT disqualify him from serving as DPS Commissioner. But the way he explained it undermined the integrity of his stewardship.
He should have fully informed Governor Palin when she interviewed him. And Kopp should have completely described the sequence to the media when first confronted with the story, and not quibble over "substantiation". The fact that the letter of reprimand was conditional and subsequently removed from his file for good behavior doesn't make it any less "substantiated". Hasn't anyone learned from the experience of Richard Nixon?
Kopp may well be a standup guy personally, and many who know him vigorously defend him. But with the Palin Administration under fire over the Monegan firing, and facing possible senatorial rejection of AGIA and the TransCanada deal, Kopp needed to provide clear and unequivocal leadership. He failed to do so. But by resigning, he has recovered a part of his honor.