The Haines Borough Personnel Committee will take up the issue of whether to tighten public access to personnel records, including employee evaluations and job applications.
The assembly forwarded the ordinance, which had its first public hearing Tuesday, to the personnel committee for review. If passed, the ordinance would make performance evaluations and job applications of many borough employees – including police chief, harbormaster, and public facilities director – confidential and inaccessible to the public.
The ordinance received little assembly discussion, but generated testimony from five members of the public, including media representatives Tom Morphet of the Chilkat Valley News and Margaret Friedenauer of KHNS.
Morphet cited an ongoing battle of opinions between borough attorney Brooks Chandler and media attorney John McKay, who has been providing advice on the legality of the ordinance to Morphet and Friendauer.
Chandler maintains an Alaska Supreme Court decision noted by McKay as establishing precedent for the release of personnel records is not relevant to the borough’s ordinance. McKay, Morphet, and Friedenauer disagree.
“I think the question for you,” Morphet told the assembly, “is why you are looking so hard to restrict this access that you previously provided. And secondly, assuming your lawyer can make an argument for getting around this Alaska Supreme Court case protecting citizens’ access to government, why the borough wants to create a test case to see whether the Supreme Court means what it has actually been saying all these years?”
Residents Heather Lende and Fred Einspruch also testified on the ordinance, as did harbormaster Phil Benner. Benner, who recently participated in union contract negotiations, said he was confused about how the ordinance would apply to union members.
“We talked to Tom Brice (the Local 71 union representative) about this when we were going through the contracts and he assured us our evaluations were not public. So if that changes, I’d certainly like to know about that,” Benner said.
Assembly member Dave Berry, who is also the tribal administrator for the Chilkoot Indian Association (CIA), said he understands keeping personnel records under lock and key. “Our personnel records (at CIA) are not open for public inspection. Period.”
In an interview after the meeting, Vick said he voted against the motion because he would have rather seen it go to a committee of the whole.
The personnel committee will meet at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 to discuss the ordinance. Chandler is tentatively scheduled to attend telephonically.