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

Assembly gets existential


April 19, 2018

The Haines Borough Assembly met Monday and discussed their effectiveness as a body and as individual representatives. The special meeting, which is slated to occur the third week of each month, is the latest effort from the assembly to increase its efficiency and engage in productive discussions.

The meeting opened with assembly member Heather Lende proposing they change their regular meeting to a day that would accommodate commercial fishermen’s summer schedules. She said more fishermen might run for office if they could attend meetings when commercial fishing is closed.

Assembly member Stephanie Scott was skeptical of the idea. She said potential residents running for office should be prepared to shuffle their schedules around two monthly meetings. “There are so many more meetings than those two regular meetings,” Scott said. “It concerns me when assembly members are not available for whatever meetings we’re having. I don’t want to encourage somebody without letting them know the real story.”

Assembly member Sean Maidy said meetings are a commitment elected officials have to accept.

The discussion shifted to how assembly members could effect change and implement ideas. Assembly member Tresham Gregg cited a strategic planning session held earlier this month.

“How do we actually approach those concepts, or do we?” Gregg said “What I’ve been saying for quite a while is what we’ve been doing is putting out fires whereas we don’t sit down and say ‘here’s a good idea.’”

Borough manager Debra Schnabel said assembly members need to propose defined programs or initiatives. She said the assembly needs to better trust and work with borough staff instead of picking apart staff recommendations.

“When I look at larger communities and how much stuff they get done in (fewer) hours than we spend at our meetings, how do you think they do it?” Schnabel said. “They don’t spend time picking apart all the language. They don’t spend all their time asking every little question, ‘Did you think about this or did you think about that?’ and rehashing everything as if you were the decision makers on those kinds of things.”

Last fall, the CVN conducted an informal survey of assembly meeting lengths in Petersburg, Wrangell and Sitka. Haines Borough Assembly meetings routinely last at least three hours—sometimes twice as long, on average, compared to other communities.

Lende said assembly members are expected to be generalists, considering a wide range of topics at every meeting. “If we were just focused on one thing, then we might not do our job as well on all the others,” she said.

Schnabel asked which assembly members ran for office with a specific idea they wanted to accomplish. “What have you done about it?” Schnabel asked after they raised their hands. “That’s kind of a rhetorical question. You have to work your plan. The staff is available to do a lot of support work, but I think assembly members need to work their work also.”

Maidy said to do that, assembly members need to treat their roles as elected officials as a full-time job that involves research, specificity and tenacity. He also said the assembly is supposed to focus less on the minutiae. “One of the things we get hung up on, and I’m not excluded from this, is we tend to think that when something comes to our table we need to change it slightly to make it ours.”

Gregg said making the right decisions is more important than the brevity of meetings. He said discussions often yield insights for everyone.

Scott said she wants to have meetings of substance. “I just don’t want meetings where we’re talking about diddly things over and over and over again. I want to talk about an important idea. You have to prepare your thought. You have to write it down…I really do feel that preparation is what makes things happen.”

The assembly members also discussed the upcoming community meeting with University of Alaska regarding the proposed timber sale. Gregg and Lende wanted to have a separate meeting where the assembly had a seat at the table, as opposed to only hearing a presentation from the University. Gregg asked Mayor Jan Hill how assembly members will get a chance to speak with them about the proposed timber sale.

“You would raise your hand and somebody would call on you and you would ask your question,” Hill said.

Assembly members Brenda Josephson and Tom Morphet were absent from the meeting.


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