September 13, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 37

Editorial

It’s typical for newspapers to reveal government secrets. That’s the role of the press in a free society: To tell people what’s going on, not just what the government chooses to tell them.

This week we’re reporting a situation that’s not so typical: Revealing a secret that one part of the government – the Haines Borough administration – apparently kept from another – the borough’s elected leaders.

In a certified mail request the borough received Aug. 24, the Dodov family, whose son died here in a heli-skiing accident March 13, asked for a review of Alaska Heliskiing’s permit by “all authorities,” specifically naming officials and the Haines Borough Assembly.

The Dodovs believe the company’s failure to comply with its borough-required safety protocols should lead the assembly to discontinue the company’s borough permit. The Dodovs’ request for a permit review came on a borough-issued form titled “Agenda Request for Assembly Action.”

A problem is that neither the Mayor – who finalizes assembly meeting agendas – nor members of the assembly – who were asked to review the Dodovs’ 23 pages of documents – saw the request until Monday, Sept. 10, 16 days after it showed up at the borough.

The Mayor found out only through this newspaper, which received the Dodovs’ information unsolicited via e-mail.

E-mails from the Dodovs show borough clerk Julie Cozzi told them on Aug. 24 that their information was too late to be included in the Aug. 28 assembly meeting agenda and that the information would go to the borough attorney for review.

The Dodovs wrote back to Cozzi Sept. 6, saying, “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.”

Cozzi responded that she’d check with the borough manager and get back to the Dodovs.

And that’s where the matter stood – and maybe would still stand – had the CVN not notifiied leaders.

The borough administration’s failure to share this information with borough elected leaders is disturbing for several reasons:

1) The Dodovs clearly wanted their information taken to borough assembly members, who represent the public, and that didn’t happen;

2) At the time the Dodovs wrote, the assembly was in the midst of considering changes to heli-ski permit conditions, a related question; and,

3) The administration’s action in this matter may be part of a pattern.

When Klukwan recently notified the borough it wouldn’t pay a $10,000 tax bill, the borough manager also forwarded the matter to the attorney, without notice to assemblymen. The assembly also only learned of the tax question through the newspaper.

Under borough code, the manager, clerk and attorney work for the assembly. Not everything that comes to the borough is the responsibility of the assembly, but assembly members should reasonably expect to be informed by staff of significant issues and to get their mail.

Here at the CVN, we accept that there will be official secrets at the borough. That’s one thing. It’s another thing entirely if borough staff are keeping important information from elected leaders – who are their bosses, the public’s representatives, and the borough’s final authority.

-- Tom Morphet