KEEPING IT WEIRD IN HAINES POLITICS
A petition for a recall of three Haines Assembly members has been submitted to the clerk of the Haines Borough.
Clerk Julie Cozzi has 10 days to certify 258 signatures are valid on the petitions. The petitioners, including Don Turner Jr., say they have a few dozen beyond what was required.
Three borough assembly members are the subject of the recall: Tom Morphet, Tresham Gregg, and Heather Lende.
The sponsors behind three Haines Assembly recall petitions turned in their signatures Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a second borough assembly member has resigned, citing the bitter political climate in the town of 2,508. Margaret Friedenauer, a former public radio reporter at KHNS (Haines), resigned last week, citing the general political climate. Mike Case, former borough mayor, resigned from the Assembly in April after the Assembly majority voted to hire Deborah Schnabel as the borough manager.
The petitioners are accusing Morphet, Jackson, and Lende of violating the Alaska Open Meetings Act, due to the three conducting official business via email on matters pertaining to work at the harbor.
Morphet and Lende, elected last year, are also accused of misusing their official position. Morphet owns the local newspaper, the Chilkat Valley News, and Lende writes obituaries for the newspaper. They had repeatedly pressured the police chief to begin providing the newspaper with a police blotter. The chief, Heath Scott, had discontinued it due to the time it was taking away from other police duties.
Small town police blotters are widely read items and drive sales for newspapers, posing what might be seen as a financially motivated conflict of interest for Morphet and Lende.
If the recall proponents are successful, three temporary Assembly members will be appointed and in October nearly the entire Assembly as well as the mayor’s seat, now held by Janice Hill, will face election.
HIRING OF BOROUGH MANAGER
Debra Schnabel, who is stepping down as executive director of the Haines Chamber of Commerce, comes from a well-known Haines family.
However, her hiring as borough manager, after the Assembly dismissed Bill Seward after just six months, has caused some hand-wringing around town because her brother, Roger Schnabel, owns the construction company, Southeast Road Builders. Southeast Road Builders, a long-time Haines company, is often the low bidder on borough work, which Debra will now oversee.
According to Must Read Alaska sources in Haines, the concern is that Debra Schnabel won’t be able to sign contracts or impartially supervise the work of her brother’s company, or even address performance issues or resident complaints about the company’s services, should they arise.
Southeast Road Builders is doing work on the somewhat contentious harbor expansion and also won the next fiscal year’s winter road sanding contract, which Debra Schnabel will now have to sign on behalf of the borough. The company wins most of the local work because its well established and is locally owned, important in an isolated community like Haines.
The borough’s attorney sent the Assembly a memo saying that Roger Schnabel would be prohibited from contracting with the borough, which may leave the borough having to seek construction services from communities like Juneau or elsewhere.
HOMER RECALL ELECTION IS TUESDAY
Meanwhile, on the shores of Kachemak Bay, the town of Homer will hold a special election on June 13 to decide whether to recall three city council members there.