After a positive start to Tuesday’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting, the four-hour session took a turn at the end. Assembly member George Campbell called borough clerk Julie Cozzi’s honesty and ethics into question.
The meeting was moments away from adjournment when Campbell expressed his concern. His complaint was about the assembly’s vote last month to hire former legislator Bill Thomas for $45,000 to lobby for the borough, without going through the proper channels, Campbell said. He said he’s troubled by the fact that then-acting manager Julie Cozzi said at that Dec. 29 special meeting that she had interviewed Thomas before recommending the assembly hire him. Here’s Cozzi at that meeting.
“The mayor also reviewed the two proposals and the two of us discussed them before I came up with my recommendation. I also, myself, interviewed Mr. Thomas and attempted to call Denali Daniels and was finally successful today and she told me that she had planned to contact me today anyway and withdraw and put her full support behind Mr. Thomas.”
But when Campbell requested a transcript or interview questions from Cozzi, he was told via email that an interview did not actually happen. On Tuesday, Campbell requested the assembly go into executive session to discuss “personnel matters,” but that motion failed. So, the discussion around the Cozzi’s interview claim continued.
“Reading our code, one of the things it says for our borough officers, which our then-acting-manager and now-clerk is, it discusses integrity and it discusses dishonesty, and it discusses trust of the public,” said Campbell on Tuesday. “I think we’ve lost all three of that.”
Campbell said he was concerned that the borough is in violation of state law.
Cozzi was given the opportunity to explain and said it was an honest miscommunication. She said she did in fact speak with Thomas, but did not a conduct a formal interview. She added that she did nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to the borough sending out Requests for Proposals, or RFPs.
“Formal interviews involve specific questions and notes, etc.,” Cozzi said. “I interviewed, which I meant I spoke with Mr. Thomas and Denali Daniels, asking clarifying questions about the proposals. I did nothing different than what staff does anytime we receive bids for construction projects or proposals for any other RFPs.”
Cozzi also reminded the assembly that the decision to hire Thomas was ultimately left up to them, and that they could have delayed the vote. The motion to hire Thomas in December was a tie vote, with Mayor Jan Hill breaking it in favor of the hire.
Assembly member Mike Case responded to Campbell’s accusations. He called the claim a witch hunt.
“This is just a silly, no, not silly, a vicious witch hunt and it’s very unprincipled,” said Case.
“This is a situation where our decisions are only as good as our information.”
Assembly member Diana Lapham also came to Cozzi’s defense, calling Campbell’s allegations unfounded.
“Every time you have presented Ms. Cozzi with your accusations, your attacks, she has been able to clarify the error, now whether you choose to accept her answers or not is your issue,” Lapham said.
Kathy Friedle, an administrative assistant at the borough spoke during public comment on Cozzi’s behalf:
“The comments from Mr. Campbell have been unfounded and are very mean and cruel. If he had worked with Julie the number of years that I have, he would find that she is a very hard worker and goes above and beyond to meet the needs of the community. It’s very sad to have an assembly member such as Mr. Campbell representing our community. I’m ashamed to have him as part of our community.”
Mayor Hill announced that Cozzi will have an annual evaluation this spring, as one has not been performed since 2013. Hill said concerns about Cozzi’s work need to be dealt with through performance evaluations, and put to rest so the assembly and staff can move on.
Earlier in the meeting, Case made a motion to table a resolution on the agenda indefinitely, a resolution he originally requested. It was to increase Cozzi’s salary to$85,000.