Five of the six candidates running for Haines Assembly shared their views on some of the borough’s most pressing and polarizing local issues at a forum last week. (Stephanie Scott was unable to attend. A separate interview with her is below.)
Let’s start with police service expansion. Haines lost its state trooper this year due to budget cuts and a relatively low crime rate. It’s unclear if and when that position might return. So, local leaders are considering expanding the police department’s service area beyond the townsite.
Andrew Gray and Michael Fullerton were the most direct in their support for a police service expansion. Gray said crimes outside the townsite affect all borough residents.
“I don’t believe this should be a matter where we think of ourselves in divided, geographical regions,” Gray said.
And Fullerton said when someone calls 911, it shouldn’t matter what neighborhood they live in.
“I am in favor of an expanded service area,” Fullerton said. “I think it’s our moral obligation to do that.”
But Brenda Josephson, Sean Maidy and Diana Lapham said police protection should come at the request of outer borough residents. So far, those residents have not rallied behind police service expansion.
“I believe that the jurisdiction at this point is [the] trooper, I believe the calls should go to the trooper and it should be at the troopers’ direction how it’s followed-up on,” Josephson said.
The candidates were near-unanimous on a different topic: the design for Lutak Dock. Fullerton was the first to bring up the dock, which engineers say is living on borrowed time. He said it helped motivate him to run.
“It’s extraordinary to me that this is now a crisis,” Fullerton said.
The sticking point right now is whether the borough should seek funding for the least expensive dock design, which uses berthing dolphins and would cost around $20 million, or, if the borough should continue to pursue a $37 million design, which would maintain the dock’s footprint.
Fullerton, Josephson, Gray and Lapham said the borough shouldn’t give up on the preferred, $37 million option.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet and go to a $21 million dolphin idea that’s going to hamstring Haines for the next 20, 30, 40 years,” Lapham said.
But Maidy said the borough may have to reign in its expectations.
“The Lutak Dock is failing, we need something now,” Maidy said. “So I think it’s an option we should consider.”
As the borough struggles to find funding for Lutak Dock, it’s poised to award $95,000 to a new economic development corporation. The candidates ranged in their enthusiasm for the private-public partnership. It would utilize money from the borough’s economic development sales tax.
Fullerton and Maidy were skeptical.
“I think that at a time where we’re debating $7,000 to keep a pool open, it might not be a good idea to spend $95,000 on a group that’s still deciding what their mission statement is,” Maidy said.
Lapham is supportive of the corporation because of the local businesspeople leading it. Gray and Josephson are supportive, but said they would need to see certain things outlined in the HEDC’s plan.
Josephson wants a focus on helping entrepreneurs.
“I’ve had twice in the last couple weeks, people who are in Haines, they have a business, and they’re reaching out to me for assistance with accounting and administrative burdens of their job,” Josephson said. “I think this is a role that the economic development corporation could fill.”
Gray said he’d like to see the borough’s $95,000 funding be a one-time payment, with the HEDC becoming self-sustaining in years to come.
If Lapham and Gray are elected, they’ll be serving on an assembly with members whose recall they supported. Heather Lende, Tresham Gregg and Tom Morphet all survived an August recall election.
Lapham and Gray said they’re not concerned about working with those assembly members.
“I’m quite capable of moving on and doing the business of the people, which is why I’m running,” Gray said.
Last year, Lapham started an online fundraiser for fired borough manager Bill Seward. Part of the fundraising effort was directed toward possible legal action against the borough.
“I thought what the assembly did [in firing Seward,] and the timing the assembly did it, the reasons that the assembly did it, were not valid,” Lapham said. “And I felt they had to be held accountable for it.”
The assembly ultimately approved a $55,000 settlement with Seward. Lapham said she does not see a conflict between her fundraising for Seward’s case against the borough and her duty, if elected, to help manage the borough budget.
In KHNS’s coverage of the Haines Assembly race, one person has been absent. Due to medical travel, candidate Stephanie Scott was not able to attend two forums, where we’ve heard from the other five assembly hopefuls. Scott talked with KHNS this week about some of the issues covered in the forums.
Scott is on the assembly right now, serving in a short-term appointment. She’s served as an assembly member and mayor in the past.
Scott says it wasn’t any single issue that motivated her to run.
“My interest is in the public process,” Scott said. “It’s just in the laws that we as people construct in order to create our community.”
The assembly is struggling with whether to pursue a police service expansion. The state trooper post was closed, leaving areas outside the townsite without consistent law enforcement.
Scott says she doesn’t think the borough is ready to expand the police service area. She says it’s going to take a big shift in residents’ thinking to view police the way they see fire and medical services.
“We all pay taxes for school services, we all pay taxes for medical and fire services. We may never access those services at all, but we’re happy to provide those services for our friends and neighbors and people in need,” Scott said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we felt the same way about police services? So I think it’s a cultural revolution that may not happen in my lifetime.”
Another major question facing the borough is what to do about Lutak Dock. There is disagreement about whether to settle for a cheaper repair or a more pricey one that better accommodates industry.
Scott favors the more expensive design. She thinks the borough should use money from its permanent fund to help pay for it.
“The permanent fund was created and called our rainy day fund,” Scott said. “If ever we have had a rainy day, it has to do with that dock.”
Scott supports borough funding for a new economic development corporation. She says the corporation should explore how Haines can attract more location-neutral workers.
Finally, Scott wanted to address something more personal – her cancer diagnosis. She says one way to stay healthy is to be engaged in activities you enjoy. That’s what she’s doing by running for assembly.
“I worry that people are going, ‘oh, you know, it’s maybe not a good a thing for her,’” Scott said. “But it is a good thing for me.”
Listen to the full interview with Scott here: