Haines Borough meetings will get a new look – including increased opportunity for public comment and more assembly research in advance of meetings – under plans laid out by new Mayor Stephanie Scott at a work session with assembly members Nov. 3.
A list of "housekeeping" issues addressed during the session ranged from reviewing the purpose and status of the borough’s non-assembly committees to clarifying rules about items ranging from meeting procedures to snacking at the assembly dais.
"Signing up" for public comment no longer will be required to comment, and Scott said she would "loosely monitor" the length of comments. "The purpose of public comment is to allow the public to express themselves thoroughly."
Some assembly members noticeably bristled at some of Scott’s inferences but seemed most concerned by her proposal that items assembly members put on the agenda include a written explanation, including justification, effects on the budget, relation to comprehensive plan, history, and pros and cons.
"Why would I give my assembly members the cons so they could debate them against me?" asked member Steve Vick. Members said such a requirement would make them less inclined to submit agenda items.
Scott, who as Mayor will chair assembly meetings, said such information would speed assembly deliberation and lead to better informed decisions. "Hopefully we can move meetings along with more alacrity and information. That’s my hope," she said.
Action items on the agenda should be accompanied by "bills" including similar background information, Scott said.
Unlike predecessor Jan Hill, who rarely spoke to issues before the assembly, Scott said she intended to participate in discussion of matters before the assembly, as allowed by code.
"My primary focus will be on facilitating debate between members of the assembly. My intention is to be a source of information and a guide to conduct, not a source of opinion," Scott said. "You (assembly members) have priority. You are the deciders."
She responded to concerns apparently already expressed that Scott’s participation would be overstepping the bounds of her job. "I assure you I do know the difference between mayoring and managing."
Scott presented an Alaska Municipal League "bill of rights" defining roles and behavior between the assembly and borough manager and said she thought there had been a "disconnect" between the two parties in the past. She suggested assembly direction to the manager be made through a motion. "I think we have to be very clear with the manager."
Manager Mark Earnest said he appreciated the clarifications, although member Joanne Waterman said she thought the assembly had previously been clear with the manager. "I feel like I’m in school. It’s bizarre."
Scott also asked assembly members to refrain from eating during meetings, except in instances when the borough is providing food for those in attendance. "This is from my mother. I was always taught it was rude to eat in front of others… It’s a courtesy thing." Noshing on snacks during meetings once was reserved for committee meetings, but in recent years has become common during meetings of the assembly.
Other changes sought by Scott include abbreviating the minutes to "action minutes" instead of giving a synopsis of the meeting.That would require changing code. The current method of taking minutes is a potential liability, she said, because the account is filtered through the clerk. "It’s also a time issue for staff."
Scott also would make the manager’s report a consent agenda item, not requiring recitation by the manager.
Scott identified areas where meeting procedures deviate from borough code. "I’m sorry I’m so sticky about the code, but the public has said they want the assembly to abide by code… I want our procedures to conform to code, or, if not, to conform the code to our procedures."
Scott said there’d been a glitch in the past with borough committees’ ability to communicate with assembly. Committees in the future will use "requests for action" forms so their intent is clear, she said. The borough planning commission uses a similar form.
A non-assembly committees’ scope of work should be delineated in resolutions that creates it, said member Debra Schnabel. "We need to raise our awareness of what we expect our committees to do." The borough has 22 such advisory committees ranging from road maintenance, Chilkat Center and tourism advisory committees to a public safety commission.
Scott said she’d keep office hours starting at 3:30 p.m. daily, except on meeting days. Scott and assembly members said they’d work toward adjourning assembly meetings by 10 p.m.
The assembly also discussed assignments to its four subcommittees: finance, commerce, personnel, and government affairs. Membership of those committees was to be finalized at the Nov. 15 assembly meeting.
Assemblyman-elect Norm Smith was absent from the work session.