Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest on Wednesday cited a busy schedule for not informing Mayor Stephanie Scott or assembly members of a request for assembly action from the family of a dead heli-skier who claim a local guiding firm violated safety provisions of its borough-issued permit.
The borough received about two dozen pages of information from Alex and Natalia Dodov Aug. 24, claiming Alaska Heliskiing recklessly disregarded safety standards laid out in its permit, leading to their son’s death. Scott and assembly member Debra Schnabel learned of the claim Monday through information provided by the Chilkat Valley News.
“We were going to (tell Scott) in a meeting we kept trying to arrange. (Clerk) Julie (Cozzi) and I and the Mayor were going to meet. There were just interruptions,” Earnest said this week.
The family’s packet of information to the borough included a request that the assembly and other officials review Alaska Heliskiing’s permit in light of their allegations. Their request came on a borough form titled “Agenda Request for Assembly Action.”
Scott said she was “shocked” and “felt duped to an extent” that the matter was not brought to her attention, including when she was consulting with Earnest and clerk Cozzi early last week while preparing the agenda for the Sept. 11 assembly meeting.
“I have told them that it was impossible for me to do my job if I wasn’t forwarded requests for assembly action,” Scott said Tuesday.
Scott said she asked Earnest to provide a verbal report to the assembly on the matter for Tuesday’s meeting, but Earnest was absent due to illness and the family’s claim was not mentioned at the meeting.
At press time Wednesday, Scott was arranging for a letter to be sent to the Dodovs, explaining what actions the borough was taking.
Cozzi confirmed receipt of the Dodovs’ request on Aug. 24, three days after the assembly held a workshop on permitting changes for Alaska Heliskiing and two other companies, and five days before an Aug. 28 assembly meeting.
The assembly was scheduled to resume discussion of heli-skiing permit conditions at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Clerk Cozzi e-mailed the Dodovs that the agenda deadline for the Aug. 28 meeting was 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20. “Therefore, since your submittal missed the deadline, this will definitely not be on this upcoming agenda. That agenda has been finalized and officially published.”
Cozzi informed the Dodovs that manager Mark Earnest was out ill and hadn’t seen the documents.
“I have begun processing your request, which will include a legal review, and I cannot yet give you an estimate of when you may expect a response from the borough. You will be contacted at some point, as soon as possible,” Cozzi wrote Aug. 24.
The Dodovs e-mailed the borough a personal letter the following day, Aug. 25, which Cozzi confirmed receiving Aug. 27. On Sept. 6, Natalia Dodov again e-mailed Cozzi: “Please let us know when to anticipate the assembly meeting date in which the AH permit renewal will be reviewed. We would need to make plans.”
On Sept. 6, Cozzi responded, “I will check with the manager and Mayor and get an update for you.”
Scott said this week that Earnest made only superficial mention of a correspondence from the Dodovs.
“(Assemblywoman) Debra (Schnabel) had heard the (Dodovs) were making inquiries and I suggested to Mark Earnest that we have an executive session to discuss the Williamson (drowning) lawsuit, the Kammerer complaint (against the police department) and Alaska Heliskiing. I was told there was nothing to discuss,” Scott said this week.
In an interview this week, Cozzi said she was serving as acting manager when the Dodovs’ request arrived and she forwarded it to Earnest and to borough attorney Brooks Chandler. She said she didn’t believe the request was an assembly matter, as the borough manager issues heli-ski permits.
“This is not under the purview of the assembly. It’s not an assembly thing. Just because someone wants something to go to the assembly doesn’t make it an assembly thing,” Cozzi said. “My job is to receive things and to disseminate them. I asked (Earnest) to disseminate this.”
Cozzi said she’d repeatedly asked Earnest about forwarding the information to Scott.
“I asked the manager. I said, ‘I need to tell the Mayor something.’ He told me to tell her that we’d received a communication from the family of the (Alaska Heliskiing) client and that at some point he’d be meeting with the Mayor so she could decide whether or not or when there was something for the assembly to do and it would go on the agenda… I still contend that the assembly has nothing to do with this right now,” Cozzi said.
Cozzi said she did mention to Scott that there had been correspondence from the family. “I told the Mayor we had received communication from the family and that the attorney advised that it was not under the assembly’s purview at this time, if ever.”
Cozzi said she forwarded the Dodov’s information to lawyer Chandler “because when I read through it, I was concerned… at least the implication was there that we had liability.”
The extent of borough work on the Dodov material was unclear this week. Cozzi characterized Chandler’s work on the matter as an “investigation.” Earnest said: “We were going to be looking at some aspects of (the Dodovs’ request) for an investigation.”
Earnest said he directed the attorney to review the family’s claims and Chandler has responded. Earnest, who was interviewed Wednesday while at home sick, said he has received a response from Chandler but couldn’t characterize it.