By Melinda Munson
The Nov. 5 assembly meeting started with a figurative bang. The literal bang came later.
Cindy Godbey, long-time resident and gold rush performer, sat at the same table as Borough Manager Brad Ryan and looked pointedly at him as she testified in support of reinstating former police chief Ray Leggett.
“Those involved in removing Chief Leggett from office need to be ashamed of themselves in the way they handled the situation,” she said, also stating that Ryan was acting like he had a “vendetta.” She finished her comments with a loud demand that Ryan resign or be fired.
Brandon Arnold also spoke in defense of Leggett. He described how the former police chief, who is a pastor, gave Arnold’s father his last rites.
“I’ve seen at least five chiefs of police in this town and by far, Ray Leggett was the best chief we’ve ever had,” Arnold said. After becoming emotional, he banged once on the table and exited the witness seat.
According to Leggett, who moved to Skagway 16 years ago from Texas, the municipality told him to resign or be terminated on Oct. 20. Leggett did not wish to comment further and was not present at the Nov. 5 assembly meeting.
The municipality stated they no longer employ Leggett and did not offer any additional details, citing personnel policies.
Although the reason for Leggett’s resignation has not been officially verified, many community members believe it was due to inappropriate comments.
“Those of us that know him, we know that he probably made an off-color comment that was jaded,” said Billi Clem. “We all do it.”
Some residents expressed concerns with the resignation process and the assembly’s role in the decision.
“I also would like some information as to what happened with Chief Leggett. I would like to make certain that (the) Open Meetings Act was followed,” said Valerie Larsen.
According to Skagway Municipal Code 3.18.030, “the borough manager shall have overall authority and responsibility for personnel management for all municipal departments.”
Termination of a municipal employee is under the purview of the city manager and does not involve the assembly. An assembly meeting would not have been necessary and, according to Assemblymember Dustin Stone, no such gathering took place.
“I was not in a secret meeting,” Stone said.
Ryan and Borough Clerk Emily Deach also later confirmed no assembly meetings regarding Leggett occurred.
The two hours of public testimony included Skagwegians who supported the replacement of Leggett after 16 years of service.
“I do believe that he is a good person … but I separate that from what has happened here,” said Kaylynn Howard, a former borough employee.
“There has been an overlap between the separation of church and state,” Howard said, noting that Leggett feeding the community hamburgers every Wednesday is a “great service” but an issue that is “completely separate from how Ray should handle himself as a police officer in our community.”
“I personally believe we need a police chief that has a police chief certification,” Howard said.
Leggett lost his police certification in 2016 after accusations he interfered with a family member’s criminal investigation in Haines.
Sherry Corrington was the first person to go on public record since Leggett’s resignation to corroborate complaints of inappropriate remarks.
“I’ve heard him too,” Corrington said. “I’ve heard racist comments. I’ve heard things that weren’t right.”
“I’m nervous as hell saying this right now. There are so many people who are afraid to speak out because of what might happen,” she said.
William Lockette, who supports reinstating Leggett, started a petition which has approximately 42 signatures and can be found at Klondike General Store. The petition asks that Leggett be reinstated while an investigation into his resignation is conducted.
Ashlei Greenleaf, daughter of the former police chief, explained why her father was not contesting the municipality’s actions.
“He chose the option of resigning because he doesn’t want to create division in this town, especially during times like this with the pandemic, the political climate,” she said.
In closing remarks, all of the assembly members who addressed Leggett’s resignation thanked the public for their comments but made it clear they would not intervene.
“There is one person who can protest the events that happened and that is Ray,” said Stone.
Jerry (J.J.) Reddick, a 20-year police veteran, became the acting chief of police on Oct. 23. According to Ryan, the earliest the municipality will begin to advertise for a permanent chief is late December. He cited the 2021 budget process and a rise in COVID-19 as reasons to delay the search.