A friend recently commented that there was “too much government news” in our newspaper. Another reader told me he thinks the newspaper does a good job, but he doesn’t like the local government stories because “they’re too depressing.”
Comments like those are difficult for me to brook, insomuch as they reflect what I believe is a problem plaguing our nation – and our community. Part of the problem is the perception that the “government” is somehow separate from us.
The first definition of “democracy” in my Webster’s New World Dictionary is “government in which the people hold the ruling power, either directly or through elected representatives; rule by the ruled.”
That is, we govern ourselves.
How we govern ourselves, as Haines Borough, determines how well we succeed as a community, just as how we govern ourselves individually determines how well we do personally. When we give up on local “government,” we give up on our community’s future.
Make no mistake about it. Select individuals, businesses and organizations in this town can succeed wildly and the community can still fail. Without good government and strong leadership, a community quickly descends into disorder; unity of purpose is lost, rules are bent or broken, and decision-making becomes a free-for-all among competing special interests.
Citizens become disillusioned, lose interest and stop participating, and the descent into chaos accelerates.
To an extent, this already has happened to our federal government, and the media own much of the blame. The national media were mostly derelict in their coverage of the gradual dismantling of the laws and institutions that gave rise to the middle class in our country.
News outlets were reporting on lifestyles of the rich and famous while the government’s deregulation of the savings and loan and banking industries – to cite just a few examples – led to mischief that picked our pockets clean.
We need aggressive and informative reporting on government, in our nation and in our town, to progress. We also need citizens to act on what they learn in the newspaper pages, to take hold of how they govern themselves through their “government,” and to lead.
Democracy and newspapers were born as conjoined twins. They will survive or perish together.
Here at the CVN, we spend most of our resources covering your local government. If we had more resources, we’d print more government news and do a better job of it. Government is that important.
Maybe free hot dogs lured about 300 residents to the Port Chilkoot Dock for the special docking of the Malaspina last month, but I suspect deeper loyalties were involved.
The great lady of the Alaska Marine Highway System, her stack in bright yellow paint, looked right at home alongside Fort Seward for the 50th birthday party of the ferry system. People who turned out to see her said they wished ferries still docked downtown.
At the dockside party, residents shared their favorite stories about the ferries, and mostly, they amounted to this: We like them, particularly mainliners like the Malaspina.
Mainliners look like ships and do real work. Mainliners do not look like cruise ships, those gaudy, floating hotels built and registered in foreign countries. They also don’t look like the futuristic “fast ferries,” which sailed out of a James Bond movie but are too wimpy to go out in storms.
Mainliners are ferries straight out of a children’s book – plain, brawny and reliable – ships that take you back and forth, and, when needed, come crashing through stormy seas to pluck you from peril when you’re clinging to a cliff on some icy channel.
Residents who’ve seen a few winters are wisely skeptical of smaller “shuttle ferries” the state wants to run between here and Juneau. Small ferries – even the LeConte – can’t make it up Lynn Canal during some cold blows out of the north. And when you’re fresh off a fishing boat in Sitka or just in from a month in a soggy tent in Hoonah, a hearty cafeteria meal and a hot shower aboard aren’t so bad, either.
My wife and I sailed the Malaspina to Skagway and back to celebrate our wedding anniversary on the 50th anniversary voyage. We ate crab quesadillas in the cafeteria and dabbled at a jigsaw puzzle in the forward lounge. We ran into some friends on board, met a few strangers and listened to live music in the cafeteria. The trip was a delight.
A ride on a mainliner is a good value, and one that the State of Alaska could afford to provide way back in the early 1960s, long before we had big oil royalties to pay our bills.
Fifty years ago, marine engineers looked at the waters of Southeast Alaska and built the mainliners. Is it possible that these shipbuilders, of the same generation of engineers who designed the ships that flew to the moon, got it right?
The issue of the Haines Borough manager’s leave isn’t a difficult one. Including 11 paid holidays and 16 days of sick leave, the manager’s contract allows him 59 paid days off per year. Considering that the position is well-paid and the workload is heavy, that much leave is excessive. It should be trimmed.
Also, the borough’s contracts with its officers -- the clerk, police chief, and chief finance officer -- need to be amended to remove wording that makes their evaluations confidential, as this clause is in conflict with state laws our leaders are sworn to uphold.
Both these changes can be made with a few strokes of the pen and needn’t consume much assembly or staff time.
-- Tom Morphet