November 8, 2012 | Volume 42, Number 45

Assembly supports Earnest extension

The Haines Borough Assembly voted 4-2 Tuesday to extend manager Mark Earnest’s contract through July 2014 pending a “satisfactory” evaluation and a contract review.

Members Debra Schnabel and Norman Smith were opposed. Dave Berry, Steve Vick, Joanne Waterman, and Jerry Lapp were in favor. Waterman introduced a motion to extend the contract at the Oct. 9 assembly meeting where Earnest revealed he would not be leaving town at the end of July, as he had formerly planned.

   There was no discussion at the meeting of what a “satisfactory” performance evaluation would entail, or when an evaluation would be scheduled. A meeting has not yet been scheduled to review Earnest’s contract.

Earnest is paid $108,000 a year.

In an interview after the meeting, Vick said evaluations involve rating employees on a scale of one to five in various categories relating to job performance. “Satisfactory would basically be three or up,” Vick said.

Lapp later said he was not sure of the timeline for the evaluation, although he expects it would happen early next year.

  Schnabel moved to postpone the contract extension indefinitely. She said Earnest’s disclosure of his aborted departure from Haines should not have prompted the extension, and that it would be irresponsible of the assembly to extend the contract without first evaluating the manager and reviewing his contract.

  “To take the action right now to extend the contract without a review of the contract I think is negligent on our part,” she said.

  Schnabel’s main issue with the contract concerned some confusion in the section on benefits, particularly portions referring to annual leave. She also expressed concern that the issue of Earnest’s contract extension had devolved into matters of personal politics and preference instead of what is best for the borough.

“How this has become such a huge political discussion just baffles me. We are an assembly that is supposed to be making personnel decisions based on evaluations, and then we move forward from there,” Schnabel said.

   Schnabel’s motion to postpone indefinitely failed 4-2.

 Waterman said she was grateful Earnest came forward with the information about his cancelled departure plans and thought it best to extend the contract as soon as possible.

“I was appreciative that Mark brought forth that information and I guess I didn’t want...it seemed the prudent and natural thing to do at the time, to extend his contract because he was going to be available,” Waterman said.

Assembly member Steve Vick also said he saw no reason to put off the extension.

Smith said he thought the extension of a contract without a performance evaluation set a dangerous precedent for the future hiring of borough managers.

“I just think this procedurally is wrong. I don’t think there’s a need at this point to extend the contract in any way, shape, or form, with eight months left on the existing contract. I think we’re in grave error to extend a contract without a performance evaluation,” Smith said.

The assembly members did not discuss their opinions on Earnest’s specific, or even general, performance during the meeting. Members of the public did, however, speak to Earnest’s record. Members of the public who spoke in favor of Earnest’s contract extension included Rob Goldberg, Norm Hughes, and Lenise Henderson Fontenot. Paul Nelson spoke out against the extension.

“We don’t discuss performance in an open session. It’s usually done in executive session,” Vick said in the interview after the meeting.

Vick pointed to a list of important projects he said Earnest helped advance, including Port Chilkoot dock developments and the completion of the borough’s comprehensive plan.

“These are all signs of progress that I haven’t seen in the past with past managers. We finally have the ball rolling toward the big picture plan and I think this manager has been integral to making that happen,” Vick said.

Lapp also expressed his opinion on Earnest’s performance in a later interview. He said Earnest has been instrumental in working with state and federal agencies to get things done at the borough, and it would be ill-advised to switch managers while so many big projects are under way.

The assembly arrived at the final wording of the motion after nearly 40 minutes of proposing and withdrawing various primary and secondary amendments and brainstorming language.