A Haines Borough Assembly committee is recommending adjustments to the way committees put out information about their discussions and decisions. The changes were prompted by citizen concerns about inconsistent public information.
About a dozen borough and standing committees delve into and make recommendations about everything from tourism to land development. What Dana Hallett is concerned about is whether those committees give enough information to the public before and after each meeting.
“This inconsistency has led to what I think is sloppy democracy,” Hallett said.
Hallett evaluated what information four standing committees put out before and after meetings. He found that the public safety commission, tourism advisory board, port and harbor advisory committee and parks and recreation committee were lacking in some ways. For example, sometimes they would put out a notice for a meeting without including any information about what topics would be discussed. And, some committees would take months to pass on meeting minutes to the borough assembly.
“Our charter states that people have a right to access a well-maintained public record of all actions of public officials so that the citizens of the borough may maintain control over the affairs of their government,” Hallett said.
He presented his case to the assembly’s Government Affairs and Services Committee, on which Ron Jackson, Diana Lapham and Tresham Gregg serve. After some discussion about what they felt was lacking in the committee process, they made four motions to bolster public information.
Lapham suggested committee chairs send out a summary of what happened at a meeting right after it ends. That way, people could get information right away, instead waiting weeks or months for minutes to come to the borough clerk and assembly.
“It would complement the action minutes that are right there anyway,” Lapham said. “But it would summarize and help explain the action.”
They also voted for another change that would give more detail to action minutes: to recommend committees supplement their minutes with explanations of rationale. That means instead of just saying, ‘this was the vote,’ the minutes would include the reasoning behind it.
The third vote was to do away with the habit of saying ‘so moved’ when a committee member makes a motion. Hallett said at a recent planning commission meeting, the staff member taking minutes misinterpreted a motion because the person who made it said ‘so moved’ instead of stating the motion fully.
The final recommendation was about reconciling code. In borough code pertaining to committees, it says minutes shall be submitted to the borough clerk within two weeks. But in code governing specific committees, the wording is vague.
“I would like to move that we direct staff to resolve the ambiguity between the primary code and [the code governing] all the individual boards and committees and commissions,” Jackson said.
Resident Mike Denker said he thinks when committees follow a more rigorous process, it holds members accountable.
“One thing that I think, when you take these to new levels, when you have these regular agendas posted and when they’re writing their motions out, they all take their job more seriously,” he said. “When it’s just loosey-goosey, there’s a tendency to say, ‘it’s not a big deal.'”
Those four recommendations aimed at improving committee process will go to the borough assembly for approval.