Gateway: News

Flap over mayor’s key prompts rumors, denials

Two police support staffers worked recently on records in the Gig Harbor Police Department. The records section is off-limits to visitors without an escort.
Two police support staffers worked recently on records in the Gig Harbor Police Department. The records section is off-limits to visitors without an escort.

A rumor about the Mayor Kit Kuhn poking around the Police Department after hours is making the rounds of social media, sparked by a council candidate’s video.

The mayor denies it, and Police Chief Kelley Busey says there’s nothing to it.

Every mayor and city administrator has a master key to all the offices in the Civic Center building, including the Police Department, Busey said in a post on the city’s website.

But to his knowledge, Busey told The Gateway, Kuhn has visited the department only three times, and on each occasion it was to talk to him personally.

In a video posted last week to her Facebook page, council candidate Michelle Matheson called the mayor’s pass key “a shocking issue for Gig Harbor.”

Matheson said she has been told “as part of the craziness going on at City Hall,” that “the mayor has is own special key to get into the police department whenever he wants, even after hours,” she said. “If this is true, it means the mayor can spend as much time as he wants, alone, and there is no record of him going in, or leaving, or what he is doing while he is there.”

Social media drama

In retellings on social media, this has morphed into a story that the mayor was “caught” by a police officer prowling around the office after hours, and was asked to leave.

Never happened, both the mayor and police chief said.

“I’ve never been found inappropriately in the police department, and I’ve never been asked to leave,” Kuhn said Tuesday. “When I go to the police department, I actually knock on the door and wait to be escorted. I’ve never used my key.”

As to the key, he said, “Every mayor in the history of Gig Harbor has had a key to the various buildings, as do the heads of several departments, for emergency reasons.”

Matheson’s video prompted a post by Police Chief Kelly Busey.

“There has been a recent allegation that the Mayor of Gig Harbor has unfettered access to the police department, including files and/or items of evidence,” Busey wrote.

“What is true is that every Mayor and City Administrator has had a master key to the Civic Center, including the police department offices. Nobody — even the Mayor — can have unescorted access to the police department without having first undergone a background check and at no time does the Mayor have access to the property room where items of evidence are maintained.”

‘Slightly uncomfortable’

One Gig Harbor police officer who asked to remain unidentified said something similar to the rumor did occur, but the incident was exaggerated.

“The mayor was sort of hanging around after one of his meetings with the chief,” the officer said. “He wasn’t doing anything nefarious. He may have just been looking at the pictures on the wall. A supervisor noticed him and reminded him that he needed an escort to be in that area if he hadn’t had a background check. That’s all.”

The mayor did request a background check, which was completed in September, Busey said.

That did make some officers “slightly uncomfortable,” the officer said. “It makes us wonder why he feels he needs that access.” But at least one former mayor, a onetime prosecutor, had a similar background check, so the request was not unprecedented, the officer said.

In her video, Matheson raised the issue of the mayor’s possible access to evidence and case files, which she said could “destroy ongoing cases.”

“Evidence must remain secure,” she said, adding that “Politicians should stay out of the way.”

Securing case files

A former council member, Rahna Lovrovich, said even if the rumor is unfounded, the flap does raise the legitimate issue of security for police files.

As a council member, Lovrovich said, she has been inside the police department many times, for tours and meetings, and “every time I visited, the case file room door was wide open.”

“This means there’s a potential that those files could be accessed by unauthorized people that have a key,” she said. “The potential increased greatly after hours, when the front office personnel have gone home.”

“I believe that door should be closed and locked at all times and that only authorized police personnel should have access, not an elected official with a background check.”

Kuhn said Tuesday he does not have a key to the police file room, has never been there, and “I don’t even know where that is.”

Jake Gregg contributed to this story.