Negotiations a few years back between Skagway officials and a private company are back in the spotlight. A citizen complaint with a state agency drew attention to officials’ failure to disclose amenities they received on the out-of-state trips.
A few years ago, Skagway officials traveled to Florida for talks with a company called TWC Enterprises.
TWC is also known as ClubLink. It is the parent company of White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, which leases a large share of Skagway’s tidelands. The two parties were negotiating terms of a potential new lease.
The contract was ultimately rejected by voters by 2015.
Two years later, Skagway resident Roger Griffin filed a complaint related to the Florida negotiations.
Griffin accused Assemblyman Dan Henry of failing to report gifts from TWC on his public office financial disclosures. Officials and candidates are supposed to disclose gifts over $250.
The complaint was the second Griffin filed against Henry with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. It is the third time APOC staff have found Henry in violation of state law.
This APOC investigation found that TWC covered hotels, meals and rounds of golf for Henry. APOC staff said the hotel expenses totaled at least $500. The staff recommended Henry pay a fine for not reporting the gifts. Henry addressed the issue at a meeting last week.
“I really don’t remember exactly but it is one of two things,” Henry said. “Either I was told ‘don’t worry about rooms and meals, we’ve got it.’ Or it was rhetorical, ‘we’ll get the rooms and meals.’ Whatever it was, I don’t know. But all I saw was to defray costs that the city would have to bear.”
The public offices commission will not make its ruling in Henry’s case until February.
Still, the APOC investigation prompted another assemblyman, Steve Burnham Jr., to update one of his disclosure statements. Burnham traveled to Florida for lease negotiations as well. He brought up the subject at the assembly meeting.
“I understood this to be an arrangement between the Municipality of Skagway and White Pass and Yukon Route, rather than an arrangement that was intended to benefit the negotiation team,” Burnham said. “I had no part in compelling this arrangement and still do not know how it came to be. As a member of the Skagway negotiation team, I was never at any time wined, dined or provided with free golf and/or any other entertainment.”
Burnham amended his 2014 statement to disclose a free hotel stay in December of 2013. He says he doesn’t consider it a “gift.” But, in light of the APOC case, he chose to disclose it anyway.
Skagway is once again in negotiations with White Pass over a new waterfront lease. One of the biggest changes to the process this time around is that the negotiations are not taking place out of state. They are happening in Skagway. And the assembly is holding its discussions on the agreement in public.