Spencer Morgan. (Submitted photo)

Spencer Morgan. (Submitted photo)

Skagway Assemblyman Spencer Morgan only had to sit out two meetings before being welcomed back to the assembly to fill an empty seat. Assemblyman Dan Henry turned in his letter of resignation in October, leaving one of the six chairs vacant. Morgan, who in October ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign to retain his seat, was chosen as Henry’s replacement.

Mayor Mark Schaefer initially nominated someone else to take the vacant seat. He said he had Tim Bourcy in mind ever since he first realized Henry might resign.

“When we got notified of Dan’s issue, the first phone call went to our lawyer,” Schaefer said. “And shortly after that I contacted somebody I thought would serve. And I would like to see Tim Bourcy appointed to this table.”

Assemblyman Henry was convicted of failing to timely file federal incomes taxes. After that news broke, the mayor and assembly did not dismiss Henry. They said there was nothing in code mandating his departure.

The question of whether Henry would resign lasted for months, after he signed a plea deal, was sentenced to a year in prison, and was investigated by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Some Skagway residents called on Henry to step down in time for his seat to go to a public vote on the Oct. 4 municipal election ballot. But that’ didn’t happen.

In mid-October, just a couple weeks before he was required to report to prison, Henry turned in his letter of resignation.

Who would fill his seat? There were two candidates for assembly who lost their election bids in October: David Brena and Spencer Morgan. Brena was on the ballot, but Morgan squeaked in at the last minute as a write-in candidate. Brena garnered 181 votes. There were 124 write-in votes, which did not meet a significant enough threshold to be tallied by name.

Morgan was finishing his first three-year term on the assembly. Now, he’ll get to serve another year.

Although Schaefer nominated Bourcy for the seat, the four assembly members present chose to go in a different direction. Assemblyman Tim Cochran said he’d like to see Bourcy continue his work as chair of the port commission. He couldn’t do that as an assembly member.

“I think Tim is valuable on the port commission as chair,” Cochran said. “And I would like to see that go on, especially in this time frame of going forward.”

Cochran said he’d rather appoint Morgan. Newly-elected Assemblyman Orion Hanson agreed.

“I would say from having served with Spencer on Planning and Zoning, I’ve seen him say no to his friends and yes to his enemies,” Hanson said. “I think in terms of someone who interprets the best for the community, I might not always agree with what he says but I always know why he said it. And I value that.”

Morgan said he would accept the appointment.

“Yeah, I would be willing to step in and serve,” Morgan said. “That being said, I still think Tim [Bourcy] would be a great option. But I do appreciate the fact that you guys feel confident in my abilities at the table.”

Hanson, Cochran, Jay Burnham, and Steve Burnham Jr. unanimously voted to appoint Morgan. He may take his seat at the next meeting, which was rescheduled from Nov. 17 to Nov. 10. Since Morgan was appointed rather than elected, he will serve one year, and his seat will be up for a vote in the next municipal election. There was no mention of David Brena, the other assembly candidate who lost his bid in early October.

Much of the rest of the meeting was taken up with discussions about expenses the city continues to pay for permitting on the stalled Gateway Project. The assembly hit the brakes on the port improvement project after voters rejected a tidelands lease between the borough and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. But as Schaefer explains, they decided to allow engineering firm KPFF to continue with the permitting process.

“We basically stopped the design work being done but continued with the permit knowing we wanted to be prepared for a clean-up,” said Schaefer. “And that’s where the value of it still lies.”

A clean-up of contamination in the ore basin in a key part of the Gateway Project. But the impasse caused by the lease rejection left contamination clean-up in limbo. Regardless, the municipality wants permits in place if and when there is a path forward to start to the mitigation.

But the assembly and mayor voiced annoyance with how long the permitting is taking, saying it’s not following the predicted timeline.

“I think we’re all frustrated by how much time it’s taking,” said Cochran. “But I understand it takes time.”

The hope is that a newly-hired port consultant will be able to unstick Skagway from the port stalemate.  A steering committee is working to define the scope of work for the port consultant. A part of that may be restarting waterfront negotiations with White Pass. At the past two assembly meetings, railroad representatives have said they are ready to talk as soon as possible.