The Haines Borough has paid more than $10,000 in legal expenses related to the embattled heliski map committee.
The municipality’s legal bill for the first seven months of the fiscal year was broken down in a letter from attorney Brooks Chandler. The borough spent about $59,000 on attorney expenses in those seven months. Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan says the borough usually budgets about $70,000 for the entire year’s worth of legal costs.
The spending helped trigger the need for a $15,000 budget amendment, which the assembly approved this week.
The largest category of legal spending was ‘general counsel’ at about $12,000. That included more than a dozen tasks from responding to citizen complaints to advising on personnel matters.
The second largest category was heliskiing.
Chandler said the $10,000 spent on heliskiing-related matters was mostly in regard to the heliski map committee. The committee was fraught with controversy from its inception. The two permit holders who requested changing the boundaries on the heliski map both gained seats on the five-person committee. That sparked questions about conflicts of interest.
Sean Brownell of Alaska Heliskiing was appointed to a designated ‘industry’ seat. Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures owner Scott Sundberg’s appointment was more controversial. He applied for a seat representing the general public and was randomly appointed to one of the two spots.
There were questions over whether Sundberg and Brownell should vote on their own map amendment requests. The attorney weighed in on that. Then, there were two citizen appeals of the committee’s actions. The attorney was also called on for that matter.
In the end, the conflict of interest allegations sank the map committee’s work. Chair Ron Jackson suggested the assembly put off changes until the summer, when a new committee can be formed or a new process is ironed out.
The borough originally budgeted about $89,000 for professional and contractual services, which includes attorney fees. The assembly approved increasing the amount by $15,000 for this fiscal year. That amendment also pays for a $5,000 employee satisfaction survey commissioned by former manager Bill Seward.