At this time last year, Jennifer Shockley was named acting director of Unalaska's Department of Public Safety — and said she'd be interested in the full-time top job as soon as the city moved to fill it.
"I would certainly — at this time — expect that I'd be putting an application in for it," she said in January of 2018.
Shockley seemed on track to be a competitive candidate and was even selected as the city's 2018 employee of the year. But last week, she resigned after more than 18 years with the local police.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Shockley to ask: Why resign? And why now?
SHOCKLEY: In December of 2017, Mike Holman turned in his resignation as director of Public Safety, and it's been more than a year with no executive head at the helm. You know, the trickle-down effect in terms of workload for staff — in terms of things we can't do that we should be doing as part of our mission — just kind of keeps building and building. And as far as doing it now, at some point a couple of months ago, I really kind of had to make a decision about my professional goals, which I have not been able to meet here in the last year, and what I needed to do to reach my professional goals for myself.
KUCB: It sounds like the issue stems from the city's decision to delay hiring a full-time police chief for as long as it has. And city officials did that because they first wanted to settle the big question of department restructuring, which just came to a conclusion last month. So did the council's decision to split Public Safety factor in to your resignation at all — or was it just the drawn-out way it was handled? Because you mentioned that you started looking at other job opportunities about six months ago, and that's roughly the time City Manager Thomas recommended separating Public Safety into two standalone departments?
SHOCKLEY: The actual decision to split really had little to nothing to do with my decision to pursue other avenues. It obviously, I think, played a role in the timing of things from the city standpoint. Like I said, the City Council and city administration have had well over a year to address this problem. But it's more coincidence that it was occurring when the split was beginning than anything else.
KUCB: You said you were looking for an opportunity that would help you reach your professional goals. What are those goals? And how will they match up with your new job in west Africa? You said you'll be advisor to Liberia's national police.
SHOCKLEY: Well, I would certainly love to be an agency head somewhere, and I do hope to come back to Alaska at some point in the next few years. But the opportunity to work as a senior advisor with a national police force and really help build them — not from the ground up. Like I said, they already have an organization in place. But to really be working with them on ways they can improve their organization and meet the requirements of the rule of law is going to be an incredible learning opportunity for me. And I'm anticipating getting a lot of experiences that will translate well to bringing up any agency of any size, in terms of understanding what you need at the ground level in order to build an organization that can achieve its mission. And I think it's really coming at a good time. I figure I've got quite a few more years left in terms of how long I expect to work in my career, generally. So I think going overseas for a year, maybe two years, will really give me some good experiences and knowledge to build on in other places.
KUCB: You say "other places." Would you ever consider coming back to Unalaska and rejoining Public Safety?
SHOCKLEY: It's hard to say right now how I will feel a year or two years down the road. I wouldn't rule it out. The community and the City of Unalaska have — by and large — been very, very good to me, the last year notwithstanding. But it's really hard to say. I could end up being gone for a couple of years and come back with some totally new mindset that takes me someplace else entirely.
KUCB: And after this last year, which sounds likes it's been frustrating, are you trying to leave the City Council or city administration with any particular message on your way out?
SHOCKELY: I guess, in a nutshell, that leaving key positions open for these extended periods of time is really not healthy for the organization.
KUCB: Speaking of the organization, you've been the face of it for a long time. You've been with Public Safety for a long time. You've been the main public point of contact for a long time. So now that you're leaving, what should Unalaskans expect? How is the transition going to work?
SHOCKLEY: Not really a question that I can answer right now. I have had some communication with City Manager Thomas. Very preliminary. It will largely end up being his decision — how he chooses to fill that void and who will become the primary point of contact at Public Safety.
KUCB: You've lived here for almost 30 years. You've worked at Public Safety almost 20 years. What's your mindset like as you prepare to leave after such a long tenure?
SHOCKLEY: Certainly, I've got mixed feelings about it. This community is home. And I think part of reason that it's a little bit easier for me to think about being gone for a year, a couple of years, or whatever it may be is that I'm maintaining my residence here. It is still going to be the place that I come back to, at least for the near future. So I don't feel like I'm totally leaving, which does make it easier. But from the career standpoint, there was a lot of back and forth in my decision-making. But I have not been able to achieve my professional goals here, and I do see leaving as an opportunity to do that.
Shockley's last day on the job will be Feb. 24.