Executive assistant to the Haines Borough manager Darsie Culbeck will work as a camp manager for Constantine Metal Resources this summer while the company performs exploratory drilling for a potential mine about 40 miles north of Haines.
Culbeck and other borough officials – including manager Mark Earnest and Mayor Stephanie Scott – said this week they didn’t see a conflict in the arrangement that allows Culbeck to simultaneously continue working on projects for the borough.
Culbeck, who has previously worked as a consultant and camp manager for Constantine, said this week he will work two months this summer managing safety and logistics at the company’s base camp.
Borough code prohibits “any elected official or employee to invest, either directly or indirectly, in any business or participate in any private business transaction which conflicts with his official duties.”
Culbeck said he is not a decision-maker, but can only make recommendations to the assembly and manager. Also, the borough is not involved at this stage of the project and won’t be for the foreseeable future, he said.
“As far as I know, there’s no permitting, no decision-making that the borough assembly has to weigh in on at this point that has to deal with (Constantine). I’m not on the assembly; I don’t make decisions,” Culbeck said.
“I don’t see anything coming that would put me in a conflict of interest, because I don’t see where they need the borough’s engagement any time soon,” he said.
Manager Earnest pointed to the executive assistant’s advisory role and inability to implement policy or expend funds as reasons why Culbeck’s employment with Constantine is not problematic.
“You have to take into consideration the nature of where that position falls within the organization. For example, if it were me as the manager, my outside employment is extremely limited, almost to the point of being zero... You have to look at what level that position rises to, and how much authority they have to make independent decisions,” Earnest said.
Culbeck disclosed his previous employment relationship with Constantine when he applied for the borough position, so the connection is not a secret, Earnest said. Assembly members also are aware of his connection to the company, Culbeck said.
“I don’t think I have that much influence, because the decision makers are (Earnest) and the assembly, and they all know who I work for. So if I came across and wrote some document that said, ‘Give them a permit,’ they’d all be like, ‘Wait a minute. You work for Constantine. You’re not objective,’” he said.
Perceived conflicts are not uncommon in such a town, nor are they new to the borough, Scott said. Assembly member Dave Berry’s position at the Chilkoot Indian Association, Debra Schnabel’s family connections to Southeast Roadbuilders, and assembly member Jerry Lapp’s previous ownership of 33 Mile Roadhouse have all generated similar discussions, she said.
“I don’t think that (Culbeck) could influence the situation one way or the other,” Scott said. “If it’s a legitimate conflict of interest, I’m going to assume the manager would have addressed it.”
Constantine will be renting out the Big Nugget Mine at Porcupine Creek for its base of operations, mine owner John Schnabel said this week. The company will be drilling to determine whether there are significant enough deposits of copper, zinc, gold and silver to warrant the development of a mine at the Palmer deposit near 40 Mile.
Culbeck said he will likely begin work with Constantine in late May or at the start of June.
Manager Earnest recommended in his budget for the upcoming year that Culbeck’s position be cut from full-time to nine months. The assembly has yet to pass the budget containing the cut. Assembly member Debra Schnabel said during a recent assembly meeting she doesn’t agree with the reduction in hours.
Culbeck said he hasn’t yet signed a contract with Constantine, but has made a couple site visits out to the Big Nugget Mine to prepare for the summer work. Though he hasn’t billed Constantine for any work in the past 12 months, he said he will be billing them for a recent visit to inspect the camp’s kitchen.
Darwin Green, who is managing the Palmer project, said he doesn’t see an issue with Culbeck’s dual employment. Green said Culbeck’s presence in both organizations will help facilitate communication and lend transparency to the process.