June 13, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 23

Manager contract talk heats up

Discussion of Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest’s contract became heated Monday, prompting an assembly member to request police presence at the personnel committee meeting due to an “unruly” audience.

Seven residents spoke at the meeting, with their complaints ranging from Earnest’s “ridiculous” amount of leave time to his perceived mishandling of borough issues.

Annie Boyce voiced concerns about Earnest’s personnel decisions, including allowing assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck to work for Constantine Metal Resources. Even if Culbeck’s job at Constantine is not a legal conflict of interest, it certainly constitutes an ethical one, Boyce said.

“I think it was a poor decision, and I think it sets a number of people in the community on edge and creates a climate of mistrust in that realm. And that’s just the latest in some hiring and personnel handling things that I think ought to be reviewed again,” Boyce said.

Committee chair Joanne Waterman reminded the audience the committee was convened to discuss the terms of Earnest’s contract, and asked that the speakers restrict their comments to that topic. Waterman warned that some of the public comments were verging on personal attacks.

“This is bordering on insulting to members of the borough employ and the manager. I understand that people have concerns; I just wish that you’d voice them in a respectful manner. That’s all I’m asking,” Waterman said.

Several audience members commented on Earnest’s leave package. In addition to 11 paid holidays that all borough employees receive, Earnest can take 48 paid days off per year: 25 days in annual leave (also referred to as vacation time), five in executive leave, two in personal leave and 16 in sick days.

 Heidi Robichaud said she didn’t know enough about compensation packages to make a determination if Earnest’s leave is “outrageous” or just on the liberal side, but said she’s heard from “a lot of people” who feel strongly that Earnest’s leave is excessive.

“From talking to people around town, people do seem to be quite outraged by that amount of leave, especially when there are some indications that perhaps the manager hasn’t had enough time to really give due time to some of these very thorny issues that have come up,” Robichaud said.

Earnest, becoming frustrated, pointed out that while he technically has leave, he rarely takes it because he is so busy trying to get work done. “I’m losing leave because I can’t take it, because I can’t get out of the office... There’s a misperception out there that I’m not in the office. The problem is I can’t get out of the office. I can’t take leave because I’ve got so much going on right now,” he said.

Jack Wenner, Neil Einspruch, Fred Einspruch, Dave Kammerer and Dean Lari also testified at the meeting.

Officer Jason Rettinger said by the time he arrived at the assembly chambers, audience members had calmed down and were leaving the building.

The committee, which also includes assembly members Steve Vick and Norm Smith, decided to have Waterman and Earnest work on the contract and clarify some of the more confusing references to borough code.

Mayor Stephanie Scott, who attended the meeting, said in an interview that the contract does need to be revised for clarity. “We’re working off of precedent and we’ve discovered we have a questionable precedent... It’s never been improved and it’s gotten increasingly opaque,” Scott said.

Waterman and Earnest will bring the revised contract back to the committee and then forward it to the assembly, Scott said. What will happen to the benefits package – including leave – is still up in the air, she said.

“It sounds like (Earnest) is open to negotiating that part of the contract,” Scott said.