On Tuesday, three Haines Assembly members are up for recall. Less than two weeks before the election, the political action committee connected to the Haines Borough employee’s union took the unusual step of getting involved. Union leaders say Tom Morphet should lose his seat. But their reason is not one of the official grounds cited on the ballot.
In April, Assemblyman Morphet publically released three critical accounts of citizen interactions with police.
Soon after, the Local 71 union filed a grievance with the borough, saying Morphet violated the police officers’ contract and code by releasing documents considered personnel matters.
The union asked for Morphet to apologize and the assembly to formally reprimand, or censure him. Those two things happened. On July 12, Juneau-based union representative Tom Brice emailed borough manager Debra Schnabel saying the union “considers the issue closed and the grievance resolved.”
“We thought that the issue would have been put to rest at that point in time,” Brice said. “But it seems that Mr. Morphet was still having a hard time grasping the severity of the consequences of the actions he had taken.”
Brice says the union leadership had concerns after learning of Morphet’s conduct at the assembly meeting where he was censured. Morphet made the motion for his own censure.
“When public officials are dismissive of employees and their needs and rights and are dismissive of the complaints brought up, then we use our first amendment rights of political speech,” said Brice.
The union rep says Morphet’s “unrepentant” behavior motivated the supporting league of the local 71 to get involved. The supporting league is the political action committee connected to the union. Brice says he initiated the PAC’s involvement in the recall election.
He says the PAC’s recall efforts are separate from the grievance, which was resolved. The PAC’s lobbying is also unrelated to the official grounds listed on the recall ballot.
“The Supporting League of Public Employees Local 71 has engaged in the recall effort not as it relates to the issues that are ballot, but to refresh people’s minds in Haines of the issues that came about with Assemblyman Morphet’s attack on the police department back in April,” Brice said.
There are two official recall allegations against Morphet. He is accused of coercion after denouncing Police Chief Heath Scott’s decision to stop releasing the police blotter and of violating the Alaska Open Meetings Act.
“It’s unprecedented for a Juneau-based union to get involved in a Haines Borough election,” Morphet said at a recent public forum.
Morphet said the reason he brought the police complaints to light is because he thinks the borough lacks public accountability when a citizen lodges a complaint against the police.
“Yes, I may have violated the contract,” Morphet said. “And if I did, then I’m sorry. But if I have to choose between honoring a contract and honoring my obligation to the safety and welfare of the Haines citizenry, then I might choose the later.”
According to disclosure forms, the union PAC has spent $1,000 in the Haines recall election. The money went to a Facebook advertisement advocating for Morphet’s recall.
The PAC has not taken a stance for or against the other two assembly members targeted by the recall, Heather Lende and Tresham Gregg.