November 29, 2012 | Volume 42, No.48

Mayor raises question about insider contracts

Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott  is looking into whether borough code could have been followed more carefully in the awarding of a borough contract to a borough committee member earlier this year.

Lenise Henderson Fontenot, a member of the Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee, received a $9,000 contract to conduct the needs assessment portion of a larger project geared toward creating a master plan to guide development of borough facilities and programs. Borough manager Mark Earnest said the decision to contract with Henderson Fontenot was his.

According to a section of borough code regarding transactions between the borough and officials or employees, “a statement under oath which shall include the nature of the proposed transaction and the extent of the interest, direct or indirect, which the officer or employee has in the transaction” needs to be taken by the borough clerk.

The code also mandates the clerk “publish a copy of the statement of the intent to do business with the borough in a newspaper of general circulation within the borough at least once within seven days after the statement has been sworn and subscribed to.”

“The clerk shall post a copy of the statement in at least one public place,” the code reads.

Earnest said he interpreted the section of code referring to “borough officials and employees” as not including borough committee members.

“Maybe that one additional step that could have been followed was the publication, or announcement of publication...When I read the code it referred to borough officers and employees in contracts and in my mind I didn’t identify a member of an advisory ad-hoc committee who didn’t vote on an issue as falling under any coverage in that regard,” Earnest said.

Scott said she was unfamiliar with the code until a recent CVN article addressed the issue of how the contract was awarded.

“The code section exists. There are no legal ramifications of not applying it. But next time we will,” Scott said Tuesday.

“What the borough does is publish their intention to provide that employment and the only reason it would apply to Lenise is because she was on a committee,” Scott said in an interview Monday.

Scott said she wrote Earnest a memo this weekend and discussed the matter with him Monday.

“The way I like to look at errors or mistakes is opportunities to learn and to not make them again,” she said.

Earnest said discussions regarding code clarification or adoption of a relevant policy could help the borough learn how to move forward with future similar situations.