Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Recall would oust Hoffman, Waterman


September 29, 2011

Voters Tuesday will decide whether Haines Borough Assembly members Daymond Hoffman and Joanne Waterman should be removed from office.

Recall organizers say the pair broke borough law when they failed to fill an assembly vacancy within the code-required 30 days.

"I think that our lawmakers should not be our lawbreakers, simply put," said Jim Shook, chairman of the Haines Recall Committee.

He said the result of the recall effort is up to the voters. Vacancies created by a recall would be filled by appointment, requiring four votes from the remaining assembly members.

Shook this week would not directly state a position on the re-election of assemblyman Jerry Lapp, who joined Hoffman, Waterman and Scott Rossman in the 4-1 vote seeking a special election to fill the seat, instead of an appointment.

"If (Lapp) was eligible to be recalled, he may have been," Shook said. "Who knows? The fact remains that I want to talk only about the people who are in the recall."

He said the questions about Lapp "begin to attack someone who is not involved in the recall," and there is "no reason to lower this into a personality conflict or even try to paint it with a political brush."

The group Haines Voters Against the Recall formed recently, with resident Heather Lende as chair.

"We very clearly feel like the recall is partisan politics in Haines at its worst," Lende said.

The Haines Recall Committee also initially targeted Hoffman, Waterman and assemblyman Steve Vick for their role in certifying the election of Greg Goodman. Borough attorney Brooks Chandler ruled that was not a recallable offense. The recall effort proceeded against Hoffman and Waterman for the delay in filling the seat later vacated by Goodman.

Current assembly members Lapp, Rossman and Vick have told Lende they oppose recalling Hoffman and Waterman for their part in the special election vote. Lende said the assembly’s action was due to conflicting language in borough law and unclear legal advice.

When Lapp voted for the special election, he cited borough charter, which says the assembly "shall attempt" to fill the vacancy within 30 days. Borough clerk Julie Cozzi advised the assembly to use the borough code’s language of "shall appoint" in making a decision.

A May memo from attorney Chandler backed Cozzi’s recommendation. Chandler wrote the charter and code sections pertaining to appointments were "virtually identical" and mandated an appointment.

Supporters also say the recall is justified because of disrespectful behavior by Hoffman and Waterman.

At the June 13 meeting that triggered the recall, Hoffman said he was unsure of the consequences for a code violation. He has been taken to task for asking, "Are we all going to go to jail?" before the controversial vote.

Waterman has been criticized for turning her back on the audience at the meeting. Waterman this week said she turned away to collect her emotions when a speaker was making personal attacks.

Several residents who sought the appointment of Karen Hess left the meeting after the first vote failed to seat her. Hoffman said as they were leaving, insults including "spineless" were directed at the assembly. "Being disrespectful goes both ways."

According to the ballot language for the municipal election, "borough residents have been denied full and proper representation on the Haines Borough Assembly" because the seat was left open. Hess and Norm Smith are now running for the vacant seat.

Hoffman and Waterman each have a rebuttal on the ballot.

"We could have stalemated till midnight without making any decision," Waterman wrote. "The following night Mayor (Jan) Hill could’ve vetoed the motion. Things could’ve gone differently, but they didn’t. Each of us made the best decision we could at the time, given the circumstances."

Hoffman’s ballot rebuttal refers to the borough’s charter and code being in conflict about the appointment process, and said the charter takes precedence, an opinion in opposition to the borough’s legal advice.

Resident and attorney Deborah Vogt requested a deeper analysis from Chandler on the charter and code discrepancy, and Chandler responded with a seven-page memo dated Sept. 20.

Chandler wrote that when the charter was being prepared in 1998, the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs suggested deleting "attempt to" in the vacancy provision. The words remained in the charter, Chandler wrote, and "we cannot tell from what we reviewed whether this was a conscious decision or whether someone simply forgot to update" the document.

Chandler said the Alaska Constitution, Alaska Statutes and Alaska Supreme Court rulings all support that code can be stricter than charter.

"The issue is whether the policy decision reflected in the adoption of a borough ordinance is prohibited by the Charter," he wrote.

Vogt this week said she was "very glad to see a more thoughtful opinion" from Chandler.

Assemblyman Rossman told the Chilkat Valley News this week that the Haines Recall Committee had "every right" to put the issue on the ballot, but said the 4-1 vote in question was a "whole assembly decision."