Both the Haines Police Department and borough leadership have decided not to pursue investigation of a citizen complaint that accuses assembly members of violating a resident’s constitutional rights. Those decisions came after the complaint was referred to the district attorney for advice.
The complaint stems from a vote the assembly took on Jan. 10. Former assembly member Diana Lapham was up for appointment to the port and harbor advisory committee. But some members raised concerns about Lapham’s suitability, and they voted 4-2 to deny her appointment. Margaret Friedenauer, Ron Jackson, Heather Lende and Tresham Gregg voted against the appointment. Tom Morphet and Mike Case voted for it.
Resident Don Turner Jr. saw that as a violation of Lapham’s constitutional rights. He and 14 others signed a complaint alleging malfeasance, or wrongdoing by a public official.
Turner ultimately submitted the complaint directly to the Haines Police Department and Mayor Jan Hill. Police Chief Heath Scott forwarded the complaint to the Juneau District Attorney for advice. Hill said she would wait to make a decision until the DA weighed in.
Early this month, DA James Scott sent a letter to the police chief saying the matter does not warrant criminal prosecution. DA Scott says that would be a potential violation of separation of powers. He says that since there is no conclusive evidence that votes were cast in an improper manner, there is no chance the argument would succeed in a criminal trial.
DA Scott says the complainants could pursue private action in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower.
Haines Police Chief Heath Scott is out of town this week. Acting Chief Josh Dryden says in light of the DA’s response, the police will not pursue a criminal investigation.
Mayor Jan Hill did not make a decision about what course she would follow until 10 days after the DA’s response. That frustrated Assembly member Margaret Friendenauer. She questioned the mayor at a meeting Tuesday, before Hill had issued any public response.
“To have this complaint hang out there so long, there’s two things. It’s not fair for the complainants,” Friedenauer said. “And it’s definitely not fair to the people that were named in that. And I’m sick of waiting to hear what you’re going to do about it. We’ve waited 15 days since you got it. And we waited before then. And I’m not taking it against you personally, but I’m very upset by it. Which means they won. The people who filed the complaint won.”
Hill told Friedenauer she and Interim Manager Brad Ryan were meeting the next day to decide on a response.
In a letter dated Feb. 14, Hill and Ryan write to Turner that they decided it was not in the best interest of the borough to investigate the allegations in the complaint. They referred to the DA’s letter, which noted that an investigation of this nature would be very unusual.
Hill and Ryan’s letter says ‘we really have to focus on what is best for all of our citizens.’ It ends by saying that as mentioned by the DA, Turner is free to pursue private action. Hill and Ryan add that every public official is accountable to citizens on Election Day.
At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Diana Lapham, the resident who the complaint aims to defend, spoke up. She said the things assembly members said about her at the meeting where they denied her appointment have made her hesitant to speak on issues publically.
“Because my trust and my integrity have been drug through the dirt,” Lapham said. “And I feel that any time I speak I am going to prejudice any topic that I may be in favor of just for that reason.”
Lapham said she did not want to comment for this story. Turner, who filed the complaint, says he does not plan to pursue private action in civil court. He declined to comment further.