Police chief demotion protested with manure

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Protests over the potential firing of the Fairbanks police chief took a turn for the smelly Monday night.

Longtime resident Kathy Marquette showed her disgust for Mayor Steve Thompson's actions by dumping manure at his feet at a meeting of the Fairbanks City Council.

Marquette, a regular at council meetings, used the public comments portion of the meeting to file her fragrant opinion.

''I have a right to protest,'' she said, just before unloading the pile onto a blanket she had laid out on the floor.

Marquette said she was disgusted with Thompson's demotion of Police Chief James ''Scooter'' Welch in December when Thompson brought in a former Alaska State Trooper as police ''director.'' Then last week, at a special meeting, council members voted to leave Welch's fate to the mayor, removing themselves from the process.

Long after Thompson and Councilman Bob Boko carried the protest paraphernalia from City Hall and a window was opened to diffuse the odor, the mayor refused to indicate whether he will fire Welch, a police department employee for nearly two decades. He said city and state law prevent him from publicly discussing a personnel matter.

''I know that there are people saying we have the right to know,'' Thompson said. ''Well, the person who is involved in the personnel issue has the right to know that it won't be discussed.''

Any information about Welch's situation would have to come from Welch, Thompson said.

The mayor has yet to publicly cite any reason for the possibility of Welch possibly losing his job.

Welch did not attend the meeting Monday. He has said that if he's fire, he will appeal either through arbitration or by filing a lawsuit.

Jerry Cleworth, the only councilman to comment on the police department situation Monday, said the mayor is in a tough position.

''The way the law reads, unfortunately you have to watch what you say,'' Cleworth said. ''And you have my sympathy.''

Councilman Boko, an advocate in the past for more decorum at meetings, criticized Marquette's manure protest and quoted from ''Bambi'' to make his point.

''Thumper's mother said to Thumper, 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all,''' Boko said.

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