For the second time in a little over a month, a Haines assembly member has resigned. The move follows a contentious meeting Tuesday night. The assembly had a few big decisions on its plate. But after a more than four hour meeting, only one had been resolved.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer is resigning from her position in the borough.
“I haven’t felt like this assembly has been able to work or focus on a problem or a issue in way too long,” says Friedenauer. “No matter how hard we try as individual assembly members to do that, the current climate right now is not letting us focus on those things.”
Friedenauer’s term lasts until the 2018 municipal election. But, she says she will not fulfill that three year term. It is a particularity tense time in the Haines borough, as a group of residents is attempting to recall three assembly members. Friedenauer says, despite her opposition to the recall effort, it’s not the reason for her decision.
“Our meetings are supposed to be business meetings,” Friedenauer. “And there is just so much going on around us. And within our own group that I’m not feeling effective. And I’m not feeling like it’s really necessary for me to be there at this time. Especially if not being there would give me some sense of relief and peace.”
In April, assembly member Mike Case resigned, following the assembly’s decision to hire Debra Schnabel over Brad Ryan as borough manager.
Friedenauer’s decision came a day after a regular assembly meeting. The group had a few key items on the agenda: appoint an interim assembly member, adopt a budget, approve the employment contract for incoming borough manager Schnabel, and conduct an exit interview with interim manager Ryan.
The first was fairly easy. Former Haines mayor Stephanie Scott was appointed to the assembly in a 4-1 vote. She takes over Case’s seat.
After that, the meeting took a different turn, starting with a prepared statement from Mayor Jan Hill. Hill did not hold back her frustrations with the assembly.
“I agree with those community members who have stated that this assembly violated our charter which clearly states that the manager shall be hired based solely on professional qualifications,” said Hill. “This clearly did not happen. I also agree with former assembly member Mike Case who stated that this hire was a setup from the start.”
She’s referring to the group deciding to hire Schnabel over Ryan for the permanent manager position.
“I am not sure exactly what part of our community this assembly is representing. But it is clear it is not all of the citizens of the Haines Borough,” said Hill.
Ryan is wrapping up his time as interim manager. Afterward, he’ll return to his job as public facilities director. The assembly was poised to conduct an exit interview with Ryan in executive session. But, there was a disagreement over whether it should be held in public.
“This is ridiculous,” said Ryan. “I’m sorry, absolutely ridiculous.”
The group voted against going into executive session. They were on the verge of reconsidering that vote. But at that point, Ryan had enough. He refused to participate in the interview.
“You’re asking me, as an employee that’s returning to another position in the Haines borough to be frank and evaluate you in public,” said Ryan. “It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”
The assembly did go into executive session to discuss incoming manager Schnabel’s employment contract. But, after meeting privately for more than an hour, they did not vote on the document.
Instead, the group recessed. They will finish the agenda and vote on the contract on Thursday.
They decided they also need more time to weigh some of the issues at play in the FY18 budget. Several residents spoke up at the meeting about different budget items. The group postponed a vote on that until their June 13 meeting.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, borough attorney Brooks Chandler issued a memo related to Schnabel’s new position.
Chandler says, the way borough code is currently written, Schnabel’s brother Roger is prohibited from entering new contracts with the borough while she is manager. He says code could be changed to allow that to happen.
Roger Schnabel is in the construction business. He owns the company Southeast Road Builders and often works with the borough.
Debra Schnabel says she does not doubt her ability to objectively administer contracts. She says the issue is that the code does not allow it. Schnabel says the attorney’s memo is concerning, and the borough would be impacted negatively if it was unable to work with Southeast Roadbuilders.
Roger Schnabel did not return requests for comment by the time of this report.
The assembly did not discuss the attorney’s opinion at Tuesday’s meeting.
The group will return to the remaining agenda items Thursday at noon in assembly chambers.