Following an unusually large turn-out at the Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee’s Dec. 14 election, the Haines Borough Assembly will recommend the committee consider changing its election procedures.
The election – which drew 78 people, packed the assembly chambers beyond capacity, and forced the creation of extra ballots – seated new members Julia Heinz and Kip Kermoian and reseated John Katzeek.
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations, anyone present at the meeting can nominate a potential candidate and vote. The process has led individuals interested in landing seats to launch recruitment efforts through chain emails and phone calls to friends.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel characterized the Dec. 14 election attendance as “unbelievable” during a recent assembly meeting, and moved that Mayor Stephanie Scott write a letter to committee chair Tim McDonough.
“For decades, this community has been filling the room with advocates for and opposed to individuals seated on the board. And it’s not attractive. So I asked Mr. McDonough if he would be willing to consider on a local level some kind of refinement of the election procedure,” Schnabel said.
Schnabel said ideally there would be a separation of time between public nominations of candidates and the vote.
Assembly member Steve Vick said he was previously unaware of the committee’s election process, but that three of his friends happened to walk into the assembly chambers during the Dec. 14 meeting. They were asked if they wanted to vote, had no idea what they were voting for, and voted anyway.
“My friend commented about how unusual it was that they were just pulling people off the street – not literally – but they came in off the street, they were in the wrong room, and they were still able to vote for something they had no idea about. It struck them as odd,” Vick said.
Scott also characterized the election, which she attended, as “strange.” She also asked Fish and Game to send her the election regulations, which are followed by other advisory committees across the state.
“They did not do anything wrong. This is exactly the way they can do it. But I would imagine that there is some latitude and they can establish rules for themselves, so that might be nice to have a little different procedure here in Haines,” Scott said.
McDonough said he has received different opinions about the process. Whether the committee could legally alter election procedures would have to be investigated, he said.
“My impression was I would bring it to the committee and let them talk it over. And if it makes sense to folks to make this a better process and to make it more open for people or maybe not so hectic, it seems like an opportunity to improve the situation,” McDonough said.
The committee will convene in mid- to late February, McDonough said.