A group of Haines residents filed a complaint with the borough this week, saying the assembly violated one resident’s constitutional rights when they denied her appointment to an advisory committee. The complaint is now in the hands of the borough attorney.
On January 10, Mayor Jan Hill presented a list of appointments to the assembly for confirmation. They were approved, except one. Diana Lapham had applied for a seat on the port and harbor advisory committee. Both the committee and mayor recommended her for confirmation. But the assembly had reservations.
“My reason is that incivility begets incivility,” said Assemblywoman Heather Lende.
She made a motion to remove Lapham and one other resident, Joe Parnell, from the confirmation list. Lende said they had made repeated personal attacks towards assembly members, committee members and members of the public.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer was also uneasy about Lapham’s appointment, but for a different reason.
“I do believe that a member of the community that is actively raising funds and advocating to sue or to advocate for potential litigation against the borough cannot serve in the best interest of the borough,” Friedenauer said.
She was referring to an online fundraising page Lapham created to support former manager Bill Seward’s personal and legal expenses. The assembly fired Seward in December, and he is contemplating a wrongful termination lawsuit against the borough.
The assembly voted 4-2 to deny Lapham’s appointment. Lende, Friedenauer, Ron Jackson and Tresham Gregg voted in favor, Mike Case and Tom Morphet voted against.
“It’s gut-wrenching to sit there and have your integrity and your honesty being questioned,” said Lapham.
Lapham is a former assembly member, and she plans to run again this year. She says she applied to sit on the port and harbor committee to ‘keep in the loop’ on borough happenings.
Lapham wasn’t the only one upset by the assembly’s decision. About a week later, Don Turner Jr. submitted a citizen complaint to the borough. It accuses the four assembly members who voted against Lapham’s appointment of malfeasance. The complaint says the assembly violated Lapham’s constitutional rights.
Lapham says she was not involved in the complaint and only found out about it after it was sent to the borough.
“I was kind of taken aback,” Lapham said. “But you know, obviously it is a violation of my constitutional right.”
A formal complaint against the borough only needs a signature from one resident. But this complaint has 15 signatures. They include two port and harbor committee members, Turner and Terry Pardee.
Turner did not return requests for comment by deadline for this story. But he has expressed his dissatisfaction with the current assembly at public meetings, including last week. Turner said the decision to fire former manager Seward was ‘stupid’ and he called out Lende and Morphet by name.
“There’s two of you I can’t respect at all,” Turner said. “There’s some others that’s going downhill. What you did to Mr. Seward was stupid, the lawsuit could cost the borough $500,000 or more. In my opinion, the vote was premeditated.”
Seward’s dismissal is not part of the citizen complaint. But it was mentioned in an email sent to a number of news outlets, politicians and the state attorney general. The email included the complaint and audio of the assembly meeting. It came from a person using the pseudonym of ‘Francina Haines.’ Francina Haines is the missionary who the town of Haines was named after.
The complaint asks the borough attorney and the Haines Police Department to investigate the alleged violation of constitutional rights. Borough Clerk Julie Cozzi says the attorney is reviewing the matter. She says in her 14 years with the borough, this is the first time she’s seen this type of citizen complaint, accusing the assembly of malfeasance.
As for the police department, Chief Heath Scott says he is waiting for direction from the attorney and manager about whether law enforcement should get involved.
View the complaint here: Haines Borough Citizens Complaint
Note: After this story was published, Don Turner Jr. clarified his comment from the Jan. 10 assembly meeting. He said when he stated that ‘there’s two of you I can’t respect at all,’ he was not referring to Heather Lende.