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Dozens rally to support former Kenai chief of police

Posted: Friday, August 08, 2008

About four dozen friends and family members of Chuck Kopp jammed the Kenai City Council chamber Wednesday night urging the council to reinstate the former Kenai police chief.

Mayor Pat Porter informed the supporters that hiring and firing of city employees at the department head level is the responsibility of the city manager, not the city council.

City Manager Rick Koch, who did not attend Wednesday's meeting, has been attending a hockey camp out of state with his son.

Before testimony got under way, Porter presented congratulatory clocks to Jack LaShot, who retired earlier this year as Public Works director, and to Kopp for their longtime service to the citizens of Kenai.

After Kopp's supporters gave him a standing ovation, he said, "You never realize the strength you have in your loved ones until everything else is stripped away."

Kopp left the Kenai Police Department in July after accepting an appointment by Gov. Sarah Palin to become commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety.

Within two weeks, he resigned that post amid allegations he sexually harassed a female assistant in the Kenai department three years ago. At that time, the mayor and council members discussed a complaint that Kopp inappropriately hugged the assistant, and they placed a letter of reprimand in Kopp's personnel file.

On his return to Kenai on July 29, Kopp said he would not be seeking reappointment as chief of police.

A number of Kopp's supporters said they were affiliated with Cook Inlet Academy, which was founded by Kopp's father. Kopp is a past-president of the school.

One CIA sophomore described Kopp as being an inspiration because of his spiritual strength.

"He defines the meaning of a public servant," said Mike Horton.

CIA Principal Mary Rowley said Kopp is "an embodiment of what the city needs as it continues to grow."

"I urge you to do what you can to get Chuck back," she said.

CIA board President Mark Cialek said Kopp "treats others with respect and dignity."

Kenai business owner Kristie Babcock said she found it puzzling that the city manager would not offer the police chief position to Kopp on his return to Kenai.

She said if the city handled the complaint three years ago and there was no change in Kopp's position as chief, she did not understand "why the city appears to waffle now."

Nate Kiel said, "It's a shame people are quick to judge without knowing all the facts.

"Now is the time for all of us to stand up and honor Chuck Kopp with more than just a clock," Kiel said.

Kathy Watson, widow of Kenai Police Officer John Watson, who was killed in the line of duty on Christmas Day in 2003, said Kopp did everything he could to comfort her at the time and she would "really like to call him chief again."

A Sterling woman who described herself as being a friend of Chuck and Trish Kopp for 16 years, Robin Forci, said city council members should consider the legacy they want to leave.

"You're being watched in and outside the city," she said, adding the controversy also has received national attention.

"Give a great person another chance," Forci said.

At the end of Wednesday's council meeting, Councilman Barry Eldridge asked that records of the public testimony regarding Kopp be given to the city manager when he returns from vacation.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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