In Haines, the politics is unusually contentious this summer.
And that’s saying a lot for a city that has been through at least 14 city managers in 14 years, four school superintendents in four years, and which has a revolving door on its assembly. This year, the assistant harbormaster and the tourism director quit, and so did two assembly members — Margaret Friedenauer and Mike Case — following the controversial appointment of Debra Schnabel as the latest in the parade of borough managers.
Tuesday, voters will decide if three of the six Assembly members should be recalled: Tresham Gregg, Heather Lende and Tom Morphet.
Two of them are accused of exerting undue pressure on the police department.
Morphet, who until recently owned the local newspaper, the Chilkat Valley News, ran for assembly and won a seat, while retaining his role as a member of the media.
Lende, an author who also writes obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News, also won a seat.
Those two picked a fight with the police chief when he didn’t provide the newspaper with a police blotter.
The chief said it was very time consuming to write the blotter each week and in his judgment it was not a good use of his staff’s limited resources. But Lende and Morphet pressured him — and some in the community felt it was wrong to do so, since the two had a financial interest in the paper where the blotter is printed.
Morphet is also accused of making public accusations against specific employees of the police department, a violation of their employee rights.
The third allegation has to do with a series of emails between assembly members, where they appeared to be making a secret pact on how they would vote in an upcoming meeting. That could be a violation of the spirit of the Alaska Open Meetings statutes.
UNION STEPS IN TO PROTECT POLICE FROM ASSEMBLYMAN
A public employees union has also weighed in on Facebook, specifically on the recall of Tom Morphet, saying he showed a disregard for the privacy rights of two police officers about whom he made unfounded accusations during an open meeting.
Morphet violated the borough’s collective bargaining agreement because the complaints constituted personnel matters, according to Tom Brice, business representative of Local 71, which has a political action committee that has gotten involved. The police officers had the right to an established complaint process, which starts with their supervisor, the police chief, before proceeding to the city manager, mayor and assembly.
Some have objected to the union’s political action committee getting involved, but Brice said that his group has a right to free speech just like anyone else.
“The purpose of this campaign is to inform and continue to bring to light facts about an inappropriate action by an elected official who used their position of power to violate borough code, contract, and due process of Haines Borough Employees,” the according to the union PAC’s Facebook post. “We are not engaging in the wider recall effort regarding Tresham Gregg and Heather Lende because they did not violate the contract between Local 71 and the Haines Borough.”
Morphet maintains he did nothing wrong, although he has also apologized for airing the personnel matters in public. The voting public will decide on Tuesday whether he, Lende and Gregg should be removed.
The regular Assembly election is Oct. 3.