It was another long, animated assembly meeting in Haines on Tuesday, with a few challenging decisions made. It was announced that Borough Clerk Julie Cozzi will step in as acting manager until Dec. 31. The idea of mayor Jan Hill was originally on the table, but was met with conflict, leaving the assembly divided. They also rejected an appeal on a heliport near 26-mile of the Haines Highway.
The Haines Borough Assembly is often divided on issues, that’s no surprise and Tuesday’s meeting was no exception. But the feeling in the room, which was almost full, was a little different. Things seemed to get personal between those behind the dais, on a couple of occasions.
“I am working very hard to keep this separate from personal and pragmatic because I very much support the mayor Jan Hill in her office and the role that she plays in the borough. I’m too hesitant to do this, though.”
That’s assembly member Margaret Friedenauer during the discussion about whether Hill should have been voted in as acting manager. Borough Manager Dave Sosa’s last day on the job is Friday. Diana Lapham responded:
“She’s willing to do this for no pay, at the expense of her shop. She’s willing to do that to help. And, you know, I’m really sad, because the days of this community doing something like this are gone.”
Lapham also listed several of Hill’s qualifications and recent professional highlights and reiterated the duration would be for less than a month.
“I’m talking people, 19 days. And a mayor who is up on everything that is going on in our borough to sit and keep things moving until we can get an interim.”
Friedenauer maintained that she wasn’t questioning Hill’s qualifications, but rather the crossing of legislative boundaries and the fact that there is an organizational chart set up for an occasion such as this.
Tresham Gregg said he didn’t think it was appropriate, nor advantageous to have Hill in the manager’s seat. Mike Case, meanwhile, took it upon himself to contact a state government specialist, who said it would be fine for the mayor to fill in as manager in this particular circumstance. The debate went on for a while and just as the group was about to vote on the motion to have Hill take over, Sosa asked for recess.
He and clerk Cozzi slipped out into the lobby and returned promptly. The mayor then announced that the problem was solved, and only after some prompting from Case, did she announce that Cozzi were take over as acting manager with help from Hill. Cozzi will take over manager duties on Monday.
Earlier, the issue of the number of members on the personnel committee was broached. That committee last week voted to recommend Hill as manager, but it was discovered afterward that was one too many members. Here’s Friedenauer and Hill:
“Are you going to remove someone from the personnel committee, or how is it going to get resolved? Friedenauer asked.
“Ok. By Friday?”
“I’m going to probably put the names in the hat and draw one out of there and that’s the person that is no longer on the committee,” Hill said.
Gregg then asked if the public could be present while that name drawing happened, so they decided to solve the issue right there. Case was the committee member booted off.
The assembly also tackled the heliport dispute near 26-Mile. Last month, the planning commission denied a conditional use permit to Scott Sundberg, who owns Big Salmon Ventures and Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures. Sundberg brought his appeal to the assembly, which, in the past, has approved it. But not this time. The assembly voted against rehearing the commission’s decision 4-2. Here’s Sundberg:
“Everyone in that area, that 40-acrea area, that all supports what I’m doing, we have rights too. To pursue business, to pursue our style of happiness and not once was that given due weight.”
He said that the commission’s decision was based on hear-say and false information. In order to get a conditional use permit, a business has to meet eight specific criteria. The commission deduced that Sundberg’s operation would meet only two. Sundberg cried foul:
“This isn’t going to go very far and I think it’s probably because you have a planning commission that’s heard this for three or four years and they’ve already made up their minds. They made it up three or four years ago and no matter what information you throw at them, they’re not going to change their minds. It’s either going to be decided in two weeks, or it’s going to be decided in superior court.”
Commission chair Rob Goldberg told the assembly that he wants to find a solution to this. He identified a few potential heliport sites that might be less contentious, including one at the end of Chilkat Lake Road.
“I think if we can start a similar process to try to put a public heliport where it’s really not going bother people, I think it could put this whole issue to rest,” Goldberg said. “Frankly, the planning commission is really tired of this conflict. We’ve been dealing with this for years and years and years, the whole community has, and I think there’s a solution to this. But we really have to put some effect into it, and maybe some money, and make it happen.”
Stay tuned to KHNS later this week for more on the assembly meeting.