Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Earnest says he's leaving


The Haines Borough Assembly on Wednesday approved 5-1 the resignation of manager Mark Earnest. Member Norm Smith, a longtime Earnest critic, opposed the motion without comment.

“I truly want to spend more time with my wife and son. I’ve been missing a good part of his development and maturity and it’s becoming very important to me now,” Earnest said Wednesday evening, explaining his decision. He’s been on the job since January 2010.

Leaders also unanimously endorsed classifying as for sale two lots on Main Street previously occupied by the primary school. Aspen Hotels wants to buy 1.2 acres at the site for a 50-room hotel.

Earnest said he’d be leaving Oct. 15 and moving to Reno, Nev. with plans to enroll his gifted son in a school there, an announcement reminiscent of resignation plans he shared in March 2012 and twice extended. His current contract expires in June 2014.

Earnest said he felt comfortable that key borough projects were at a point where they could continue on to construction. “With the staff, the assembly and the Mayor, the borough has a great team right now.”

An assembly committee meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday to start planning for the transition to a new manager. At Wednesday’s meeting, members and Mayor Stephanie Scott squared off on whether the borough should hire a recruiting firm to help find the next manager.

Scott has previously advocated getting professional help for the hire, but has hit assembly opposition. “There’s a sense you’re dismissing using a service to help you find a manager,” she said. “Are you satisfied with advertising this position? Has it worked for you?” Scott asked.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman expressed support for a traditional hire process and called for a straw vote that showed members Smith, Dave Berry and Jerry Lapp in agreement with her. Waterman said the borough should start advertising the job immediately.

Member Debra Schnabel said she hoped members would at least spend time discussing what qualities and experience they found most important for directing assembly evaluation of applicants. Advertisement of the job should include candidate attributes the assembly determines as most important, Schnabel said.

Also at the meeting, members voted 4-2 to approve an amendment to Earnest’s contract. Under his current contract, Earnest gets 48 paid days off per year, not including 11 paid holidays. The amendment would increase to 50 Earnest’s paid days off in exchange for Earnest giving up 140 hours of accrued sick leave.

The change also would eliminate distinctions between types of manager paid leave, currently comprised of 25 days of annual leave, five days of executive leave, two days of personal leave and 16 sick days.

Leaders agreed on eliminating differences in types of leave but Schnabel and Mayor Scott recommended that borough staff calculate the cost of the contract change before agreeing to the amendment, an idea opposed by the assembly majority. “The difference is an important piece of information,” Scott said.

Earnest said he didn’t know the amount of the change and that when he was discussing the contract amendment with members of Waterman’s personnel committee, he didn’t have an early departure in mind. “I never ran the numbers. I’m not looking to maximize my compensation through this process… The trade-off is giving up a considerable amount of sick leave to increase to 50 days of leave.” Earnest’s accrued annual leave carries over and is payable upon departure.

Vick said changes to the contract might be incorporated in the contract for the incoming manager, but Schnabel said the manager’s current benefit package “is greater than I want to offer to any manager, present or future.” Smith also voted against the amendment.

Earnest said the contract amendment “goes beyond me and sets the structure for future manager agreements and the (total leave). The actual number can be changed. You can look at this as legacy agreement. That was the idea here.”

Also at the meeting, Lapp sought unsuccessfully reconsideration of recent assembly action to amend the heli-ski map. Lapp said the reconsideration was at the request of a heli-ski industry representative. He said a heli-ski subcommittee had spent days considering the issue decided by the assembly in just minutes.

Waterman objected to the implication that the assembly’s decision wasn’t made thoughtfully. “I don’t believe my decision was based on emotion. I looked at the map and made the best decision I thought was right for those areas.”

Berry said a change at this point would be perceived as a “midnight run.” “It might be entirely legal, but the perception is going to hurt us.”

A motion for reconsideration failed 4-2, with Schnabel joining with Lapp in favor or revisiting the decision.