There are seven Haines residents interested in an open seat on the town’s governing body. The applicants include a former mayor and the person behind an ongoing recall effort. But most of the candidates are newcomers to local government. And many of them say they hope to bring people together after a divisive several months.
Being on the assembly has not been an easy job recently. Three assembly members, Heather Lende, Tresham Gregg and Tom Morphet are targets of a recall campaign. A few weeks ago, the assembly came under fire for its choice of a new borough manager. It was that decision that led Mike Case to resign his seat.
Andrew Gray is one of seven assembly appointment hopefuls. He says he wants to follow in Case’s footsteps.
“He was able to be an independent thinker and voice who would oftentimes be the lone dissenter,” Gray said. “And he would be able to do that without making enemies of anybody. He was never the source of the crazy contentiousness and divisiveness. I would really hope to do the same.”
Gray has been in Haines for about a year. He’s a 29-year-old civil engineer.
Sean Maidy is similar to Gray in that he is fairly new to Haines and on the younger side. Maidy is a 35-year-old apartment complex manager who moved here two years ago.
“I don’t feel like our age group has a voice anywhere,” Maidy said. “There’s a lot of apathy when it comes to the 18 to 40 demographic and the only way we’re going to be able to change that is if we do something about it.”
The youngest member of the current assembly is 40. The others are 55 or older.
James Hart is the youngest of the assembly applicants, at 27 years old. He’s a lifelong Haines resident and Chilkoot Indian Association tribal council member. He explained his interest in the assembly during an interview earlier this month.
“I’m looking towards the future,” Hart said. “I’ve got a nephew who is one and a half. I want him to know he’s in a safe place and a place that isn’t looking for short gain, we’re looking at the long-term.”
Many of the applicants say they want to help quell the acrimony that has plagued Haines politics over the past few months.
“I think [the assembly is] actually doing a pretty good job,” said Paul Nelson, a business owner who has served once before in an appointed assembly seat. “If we can just end some of the infighting and the conflicts that are happening between people here. Just trying to get people to work together is what I think I could offer.
A significant part of the divisiveness is an ongoing recall effort aimed at three assembly members. The person leading that effort is also one of the assembly applicants.
“I thought that I’ve been trying to hold people’s feet to the fire, so I thought I could try to get some reasonable stuff going on in the assembly,” said Don Turner Jr.
Turner doesn’t think he has much of chance of getting chosen for the seat by the people he is trying to oust. But if he were appointed, he says he would focus on the budget and cutting ‘non-essential’ services.
Another applicant with an interest in budgets is Judy Erekson, a bookkeeper and longtime resident who ran for assembly last fall but was not elected. KHNS could not reach Erekson for this story. But during her campaign last year, she focused on her budgeting experience.
“I have experience trying to set priorities on the budget,” Erekson said. “I know the cost of things. I like to listen to everybody, that’s how I make my decisions.”
Stephanie Scott has the most borough government experience of the group. She was mayor of Haines a few years ago and served two terms on the assembly. Scott says she would work to strengthen the public process.
“My commitment to the public process is so strong,” Scott said. “And what I want to do is to make it easier, friendlier for the public to comment during the meetings.”
The assembly meets as a committee of the whole this Thursday to discuss the letters of interest. An appointment will likely happen at the May 30 regular meeting.
Whoever is chosen will join the assembly as they work to finalize the upcoming fiscal year budget and as a new borough manager, Debra Schnabel, is expected to take the helm.
The appointed member’s term will end in early October. At that time, they can run for election.