Open seat to be decided in vote; Assembly can't agree; one member suggests pulling name out of hat


June 16, 2011

After a two-hour stalemate and failed compromise Monday, the five remaining members of the Haines Borough Assembly ditched the appointment process to fill a vacated seat and instead will leave the decision to the voters, while acknowledging the delay may violate borough code.

Mayor Jan Hill said she was upset by the assembly’s refusal to compromise to reach the four votes needed for a three-month interim appointment and said, "This has probably been the hardest meeting for me to sit through."

"I think that as elected officials, many times we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t, and I’m going to say, right now, I expect that we’re all going to be damned for this decision," Hill said.

The assembly’s 4-1 vote set a special election to run with the October municipal election. The special election winner would serve through October 2013, to complete Greg Goodman’s term.

Karen Hess, a write-in candidate against Goodman in last October’s election, successfully challenged in Juneau Superior Court that he did not meet borough residency requirements. She submitted a letter of interest for the seat but could only garner two votes Monday, from assemblymen Jerry Lapp and Scott Rossman.

Nine people testified on behalf of Hess during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Several upset Hess supporters left Monday’s meeting after the first failed vote to seat her, and Rossman warned he would not vote for anyone else and thus the assembly could be in for a long night.

"Nobody’s going to get a fourth vote out of me, and I’m going to sit here until midnight, so I just want to make sure everybody knows that, right now," he said. Lapp said he also would only vote for Hess.

Member Joanne Waterman responded, "I refuse to be blackmailed."

Assembly members Daymond Hoffman, Waterman and Steve Vick countered the Hess nomination with votes for former assemblyman Norm Smith. Goodman replaced Smith, who did not run for re-election last year. Smith submitted a letter of interest for the appointment, but was absent Monday.

"I guess I would have been more inclined to maybe consider someone else here if they would have showed up or if they would have had a support group here," Lapp said of his refusal to vote for Smith.

One resident, Anne Marie Palmieri, backed Smith.

"This is a three-month term position, and so I really think that it would be of greatest interest to the borough to seat someone who is really up to date and current with all of the issues that you’re dealing with, and therefore I would urge you to seat Norm Smith in the seat," she said.

John Brower, David Canipe, Debora Gordon, Jono Greene, Gary Hess, Wayne Hirsch, Jon Hirsh, Brad Maynard and JoAnn Ross Cunningham also submitted letters of interest for the appointment but not all were discussed or taken up for a vote.

Vick even strayed from the list of 11 candidates when he nominated Norm Hughes.

Ross Cunningham, Hirsh, Brower and Hughes went up for a vote of the assembly, but failed to receive the necessary four votes.

Hughes did not turn in a letter of interest, but when reached by phone after the meeting said, "I put my name out there and I let it be known that I was willing to serve if called upon."

Vick said Hirsh, who earned three votes, was "a blank slate when it comes to politics."

Vick advised that the assembly consider a "compromise candidate" and said, "There’s no telling who would have stepped up and ran for office in place of Mr. Goodman" if he had been declared ineligible prior to the October vote.

"Why would you vote to put someone else in there that didn’t even run, that the voters didn’t even have any choice with?" Hess asked.

At multiple points in the meeting, Vick suggested pulling a name out of a hat to end the gridlock, a proposal Rossman said "would be the worst possible scenario you could possibly do as an elected official."

"What I can’t understand is why it’s OK to nominate somebody that didn’t get on the ballot and didn’t have any voter approval of any kind, but it’s wrong to appoint the person that did," Rossman said.

Hoffman asked what the assembly should do if they could not reach an agreement on a candidate, and the idea of moving the decision to the October election began to take shape. However, the question of whether that move violates borough code is still in limbo.

Borough attorney Brooks Chandler earlier advised the assembly to make an appointment for the vacancy, since calling a special election would violate borough code due to a requirement that 45 days must pass between approval of an election resolution and holding the election.

Assembly members said they were unsure what the consequences would be for a code violation, with Hoffman asking, "Are we all going to go to jail?"

Vick voted against the election motion and said he supported a public vote, but couldn’t "knowingly break code" that requires a vacancy to be filled within 30 days.

"I’ve sat here for the last seven years and seen the code broke lots of times, but I don’t think we’re breaking it, we’re doing what the judge told us to do," Assemblyman Rossman said.

Lapp initially voted against setting the election. Then, the assembly voted on Hess a second time, and the motion again failed 2-3.

But then Lapp warmed to the election idea and cited the borough charter that requires the assembly to "attempt" to fill the vacancy within 30 days.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi said the assembly should abide by the stricter code wording, not the charter, in making a decision.

"Charter only trumps code in the event that code conflicts with charter," she said. "Code, in essence, fleshes out what charter has to say … Code actually goes and says ‘shall appoint.’"

Smith on Tuesday said he does not plan to run for the assembly in October, because he lacks "the patience to just sit there for hours" in a "dysfunctional" government. Smith said he applied for the appointment to make sure there was more than one candidate.

He said borough voters were "let down" by the assembly not appointing someone to fill the seat.

"If we don’t apply the code across the board, we throw the book out," Smith said.

Hess already has declared her intention to run for the assembly seat in October. She said she does not plan to file a suit against the borough for the possible code violation.


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