Council Reopens Debate Over DPS Structure After Shelving Issue 6 Months Ago

Jul 12, 2018

Before hiring a new director of public safety, the City Council wants to decide whether to restructure the department. City Manager Thomas E. Thomas said he'll make recommendations at a future work session.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

Almost six months ago, the Unalaska City Council agreed to suspend the search for a new director of public safety.

The plan was to wait until councilors had settled a longtime debate over restructuring the department and its leadership team.

Now, Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said they've been on hold for too long.

"We shouldn't be leaving that department in limbo," he said at Tuesday's council meeting. "We need to have a head at Public Safety, and we need it like yesterday."

Former director Mike Holman retired in January. Since then, Jennifer Shockley has served as acting director.

The questions at the heart of the hold-up: Should Unalaska's firefighters have their own department, separate from the police force? Or should both divisions continue under the consolidated Department of Public Safety?

Given the complexity of those questions, Councilor Dave Gregory defended the delay.

"I think one of the issues is whether we hire a police chief who's in charge of the police department or a public safety director who's in charge of police, fire, and everything else," said Gregory. "The requirements are different, so I think it's prudent that the city manager is taking his time."

The council has tasked City Manager Thomas E. Thomas with researching options and making a recommendation. Thomas started work on the island four months ago and said he'll present a proposal soon.

"In addition to acclimating myself to the organization, I've been working on an item for a future work session," said Thomas. 

Acting Director Shockley declined to comment on potential restructuring, as did Fire Chief Ramona Thompson.

The City Council's next meeting is July 24.