Last week, the Haines Borough Assembly fired manager Bill Seward in a 4-2 vote. Now, some members of the community are fighting back against his termination.
“I feel that I was wrongly terminated,” said former manager Bill Seward. “In regards to a lawsuit, the attorney’s still reviewing the case and we haven’t really determined the best way forward.”
Former Assembly member Diana Lapham created a Go Fund Me page to “hold [the] borough assembly accountable” for the firing of manager Seward. Her goal is to raise $35,000.
“I wanted to help out,” said Lapham. “I knew legally and otherwise, bill wise they may need some help. As far as I was concerned it was a wrongful termination.”
Seward’s contract was terminated during his six month evaluation by the assembly, a review that is written into his contract. At Seward’s request, the discussion was public, rather than being held in executive session. Here’s Assemblyman Tom Morphet during that conversation.
“Mr. Seward has made continuous missteps that reflect his judgment and diligence are not at the caliber required to do this job effectively,” Morphet said. “Moreover, I do not believe these skills can be taught.”
Other members of the assembly also criticized Seward’s performance. Morphet made the motion to terminate Seward for cause. The motion passed in a 4-2 vote. If he had been fired without cause, Seward would have received severance pay. But in this case, he will not. Morphet says he believes some of the complaints brought about Seward’s behavior reflected adversely on his position and the borough. That’s one of the actions that constitutes cause in Seward’s contract.
“I don’t want to just give away $35,000 if we meet cause,” says Morphet. The $35,000 he’s referring to would be Seward’s severance pay.
Lapham says she wants to help alleviate some of Seward’s financial stress.
“I’m really really saddened by all of this,” said Lapham. “The Seward’s want to make Haines their home and I give them my best. But right now their financial situation maybe could be in trouble and I just feel compelled to help them out.”
On the page, she lists Seward’s past employment history and credentials, including his career in the United States Army and Coast Guard.
“Mr. Seward is so credentialed with degrees and otherwise in his professional career,” said Lapham. “For him not to be able to learn how to be a manager in Haines, Alaska, that to me is almost laughable.”
Lapham writes that beyond “personal living expenses caused by the job loss,” funds raised “will go towards costs of hiring an attorney [and] prosecuting the case.” Seward says he is working with an attorney.
Seward is working with the Anchorage-based lawyer Isaac Zorea. Zorea says he’s been reviewing records to determine whether there was something unlawful about the firing. He says there are several things that make it seem like that is the case, but he has not yet made the final determination of whether a wrongful termination lawsuit is warranted.
Seward says he’s grateful for the members of the community who have supported the fundraising page.
“I was very humbled and flattered when I saw the go fund me page,” says Seward. “I can’t thank folks enough for the support, the donations.”
He says the funds will “help level the playing field” going forward.
One of his online supporters is the wife of Police Chief Heath Scott, who donated $1,000 to the cause. That’s the largest single donation made so far. Scott, who is employed by the borough, says it’s his wife’s donation and he supports his wife. He says Seward is his friend and he thinks the donation speaks for itself.
After Seward’s termination, community members raised the possibility of recalling Morphet, who was elected to the assembly in October, as well as other members of the assembly that voted in favor of his motion. Borough clerk and acting manager Julie Cozzi says so far she’s received no applications for recall petitions.
So far, Lapham’s fundraising page has raise just under $3,000.