Bill Thomas (photo provided)

Bill Thomas (photo provided)

The Haines Borough Assembly called an eleventh-hour meeting last week to make some key decisions before the new year. Among those verdicts was the hiring of former Haines’ legislator Bill Thomas to represent the borough in Juneau as a lobbyist, and hiring an outside search firm to find the next permanent manager and police chief.  KHNS’s Jillian Rogers reports.

The handful of residents that showed up for the assembly’s special meeting last week spoke out against the borough paying $45,000 plus expenses for a lobbyist. They cited the state’s financial crisis mostly, and the uncertainty that those budget shortcomings bring to communities asking for money. A couple locals suggested sending a group of residents to Juneau to plead the borough’s case.

“Our experience with lobbyists has not yielded any results either in Washington, D.C. or in Juneau. We elect people to represent us in our capital.”

“In those years that we have had a lobbyist, what impact has it had to the borough financially or in a policy way? Whether or not we have actually benefited from having a lobbyist, to me is unknown. So I would like to know whether or not that’s true.”

“I think that for us to put all this money into a lobbying effort at this point is a real waste of public money. There were two applicants. I felt that both applications were very insufficient.”

“I can tell you that the most effective lobbying is done by citizens.”

That was Thom Ely, Debra Schnabel, Gershon Cohen and Carol Tyumen.

Lobbyist proponents on the assembly said that the state’s budget woes are exactly why Haines needs a lobbyist. Here’s assembly member George Campbell.

“There’s a million dollars for our waste water treatment plant in the governor’s budget. The governor’s budget has to survive going through the house and senate. It’s better if it’s there, but it’s not a done deal, so having a lobbyist protecting that is something that I think is very important. And I want to mention that that’s our number one priority right now,” Campbell said.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg responded that he was opposed to the lobbyist saying that this could be “a neat opportunity to get our feet wet.”

Deputy mayor Diana Lapham agreed with Campbell, that a lobbyist would help protect money already set aside from the state for some big projects.

“In this day of competition, if it means that we have to join the 21st century and hire a lobbyist to protect this community and the interests and the infrastructure that we allow our community people to have, then I think it’s money well spent,” Lapham said. “We don’t know if it’s going to work. We don’t know if it’s not going to work. We don’t know. If you have a crystal ball, then you tell me.”

Thomas was the only candidate mentioned in the resolution because the other lobby firm, Denali Daniels and Associates withdrew its application and sent a letter of support in favor of Thomas, according to acting manager Julie Cozzi.

Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer said by phone that she was disappointed that only two entities applied for the position. She said Thomas’ proposal, which read like a contract, lacked any plan or mention of his prior lobbying experience. Friedenauer also said that it would be challenging to give guidance to a lobbyist when it’s unclear what the borough’s legislative priorities are, besides asking for money for capital projects. She said hiring a lobbyist would be irresponsible.

“And we can say we all know Mr. Thomas and respect him, and of course I do, and his experience, but frankly I was a little insulted by his proposal. It doesn’t give me a clear idea of what he plans to do as a lobbyist for Haines,” Friedenauer said.

Cozzi said she made an effort to check Thomas’ references, but to no avail.

It was then that Mayor Jan Hill spoke up defending Thomas. Hill was not in the mayor’s seat because, as she told one resident at the meeting, she was “on drugs for her screwed up knee.” While she didn’t feel well enough to chair the meeting, she did break more than one tie vote during the four-hour session including a tie on whether to hire a lobbyist. Here’s Hill.

“You are not going to find another lobbyist that will represent Haines better than Mr. Thomas will,” Hill said. “It would be wonderful  to have citizen representation and I think that’s a great idea, but I am horrified at the thought of citizens just taking it upon themselves to say they represent the interest of Haines.”

After about an hour of debate the resolution passed allowing the borough to enter into a contract with Thomas for lobbying services to the tune of $45,000 plus expenses. Friedenauer, Gregg, and Ron  Jackson were opposed to the motion, while Mike Case, Lapham and Campbell voted for it, with Hill breaking the tie in favor.

The assembly also voted to hire the head hunting firm Brimeyer Fursman for $27,000 plus expenses to find the next permanent manager and police chief. That passed 5-1 with Gregg opposed.

Lastly, it was decided in an hour-long executive session that interim manager Brad Ryan will get paid based on a $96,000-per-year salary. That passed 4-2 with Lapham and Campbell opposed. At the beginning of the meeting Lapham moved to reconsider Ryan as interim manager, a position he just awarded two weeks ago. But the motion failed 4-2 after an hour of discussion, and Ryan retains his new title.

The next assembly meeting is Jan. 12.