Citizens are questioning Haines Borough policy and procedures, including how information to the assembly is screened at the borough office and whether the Mayor should be routing issues straight to committee without assembly direction.

The issue of what makes it on to the agenda arose in recent weeks when Haines Animal Rescue Kennel director Tracy Mikowski was told by manager David Sosa that her communication to the assembly regarding HARK’s contract funding was not the purview of the assembly and wouldn’t be included in the packet.

“They were not going to include it in correspondence,” Mikowski said. “His answer was, ‘No, this will not be included in the packet.’”

Mikowski’s communication was eventually included in the packet after questions were raised about the manager’s decision to keep it out.

Port and Harbor Advisory Committee chair Norman Hughes also wants to know why an ordinance recommending small boat harbor fee increases hasn’t been included on the agenda. He submitted the ordinance on May 9.

“I don’t know when it will be presented in front of the borough assembly. I have not been contacted,” Hughes said at a recent port and harbor committee meeting.

Hughes said he thought it would show up on the May 26 meeting agenda, but it didn’t. “I thought this was a pretty good attempt on the committee’s part and mine in editing and giving them a document that they could make sense out of.”

Resident Mike Denker latched on to the question of how items get put on the agenda. In his research, Denker said he found a conflict between code and policy.

According to code, “all reports, communications, ordinances, resolutions, contract documents, or other matters to be submitted to the assembly shall be delivered to the clerk by the deadlines stipulated in the current assembly-approved agenda preparation schedule. The Mayor, with assistance from the clerk, shall arrange a list of such matters according to the order of business and the clerk shall furnish each member of the assembly, the Mayor, manager and chief fiscal officer with a copy of the same in packet form five calendar days in advance of the assembly meeting.”

Denker interprets code to mean that any correspondence addressed to the assembly and delivered to the clerk by the deadline must be included in the packet. However, borough policy says “placement on a borough assembly agenda is not guaranteed.”

“In a manager form of government, some matters are not within the assembly’s purview and are more appropriately handled by staff. Your request will be referred to the borough manager and Mayor and may require legal review and/or more information before a determination can be made. You will be contacted and informed of the best and most appropriate avenue for action. If your request ends up on an assembly agenda, it will most generally be placed under ‘Correspondence/Requests’ and is subject to all necessary paperwork being submitted in a timely manner,” the policy reads.

Denker’s contends that code does not leave room for staff “screening” of items for the agenda. If someone submits something to the clerk by the deadline that is addressed to the assembly, it must be included on the agenda according to code, he said.

“Nobody gets to take that and assess this and say, ‘No, this is the assembly purview,’ or ‘No, it’s not,’” Denker said. “No ifs, no ands, no buts. That’s what the code says.”

Sosa disagrees with Denker’s interpretation that the code and policy are in conflict. Part of his job, Sosa said, is helping the clerk and Mayor determine what goes on the agenda and when. “Part of what we are charged with is saying, ‘OK, what merits getting on the agenda this week?”

“Just because somebody sends something in and they want it on the agenda doesn’t mean it should go on the agenda,” Sosa said. “Again, what we are looking at is public policy and we are not saying that that item is not getting to the Mayor or it’s not getting to members of the assembly; what we are saying is this is not necessarily an item for the agenda. And those are two different things… We’re not limiting peoples’ communication with their elected representatives.”

Ordinances like the one submitted by Port and Harbor committee chair Hughes need to be vetted by staff, Sosa said, before they can come before the assembly. Other departments and committees need to be consulted on how an ordinance may impact them, and the attorney may also need to be consulted in some cases, Sosa said.

Just because someone puts together an ordinance doesn’t mean it is ready for “prime time,” Sosa said.

Also, just because someone thinks their issue is important and worthy of placement on the agenda, doesn’t necessarily mean it is so, he said.

“Part of what we are trying to do every single day is winnow through the thousands of emails that come into the administration and the other tens of thousands of bits that come in, and try and identify what’s of sufficient public interest and of import to get on the agenda. And you know what? Not everything is important,” Sosa said. “It might be important to one person, and that’s great, but part of what we are looking at here is what has the greatest importance to the community at large. And are we always going to get it right? No.”

Denker strongly disagrees with Sosa’s assertion. If someone takes the time to submit an item for the agenda and does so by the deadline, it should be included according to code, he said. “That’s not right,” Denker said of Sosa’s role in assessing whether something is “ready” or “important” enough to be included on the agenda. “That’s not what the code says.”

Sosa, Mayor Jan Hill and clerk Julie Cozzi meet every Monday to review the coming meeting’s draft agenda, Cozzi said. The Mayor holds ultimate authority on deciding what goes on the agenda, she said.

Cozzi said she, Hill and Sosa get many pieces of correspondence addressed to the assembly that can be handled by staff. Part of what they do is re-route those assembly-addressed emails to those who can best address the question or concern, Cozzi said.

  “We always make the assembly aware,” Cozzi said. “The manager is really good about keeping the assembly informed. And it’s not like we are trying to hide anything from the Mayor or assembly.”

Hill said some things don’t make it on the agenda because they aren’t ready. “If we just put things on the agenda without all this preparation, I’m sure there would be assembly members that were going, ‘Why are we looking at this now? So-and-so needs to look at this,’” Hill said.

“There is never any effort to keep things from the assembly or the public, but we are trying to make sure everything is prepared,” Hill said.

Former Mayor Stephanie Scott said she didn’t screen correspondence addressed to the assembly because she didn’t feel it was her place to decide what was on the assembly’s agenda. By putting it on the agenda, that gives the assembly the responsibility and opportunity to consider it and either dismiss the issue or take it up, she said.

“The assembly is well within its power to say, ‘No, we don’t want to talk about that now.’ But that’s not for the Mayor to say,” Scott said. “If it is addressed to the assembly, then it is addressed to the assembly. And it’s not for the Mayor or the manager or the clerk to cherry pick.”

Scott said she has also become concerned by Mayor Hill’s direct routing of issues to committee before they’re considered by the full assembly. For example, Denker submitted his concerns and an accompanying resolution to the assembly, but Hill directed the Government Affairs and Services Committee to address Denker’s correspondence before it could come to the entire group.

Hill also directed the planning commission, tourism advisory board and parks and recreation committee to take up the relocation of Lookout Park issue, after announcing the harbor project was moving ahead.

“My big question is I don’t understand how the Mayor can authorize a topic to be sent to a standing assembly committee. I thought that was the job of the assembly,” Scott said.

Scott said when she was Mayor, if there was an issue she thought would be best dealt with in committee, she would write a memo to the assembly explaining the recommendation, but ultimately it would be the assembly’s decision.

“Those committees – the standing committees – are committees of the assembly. They are not committees of the Mayor. And the assembly should be deciding what issues they deal with in their committees or not,” Scott told the GAS committee Monday.

Hill said she is trying to utilize the borough’s committees and boards more, and that sending Denker’s issue to the GAS committee was “a no-brainer.”

“Let them help us do the legwork and get these items ready for the agenda or not,” Hill said.

Members of the GAS committee didn’t seem to see a problem with the existing agenda-making process or the Mayor sending issues directly to committee.

“We have to have some sort of a screening to separate the stuff that really needs to be handled and just dealt with and stuff that really should come before us in an assembly meeting,” said GAS committee member George Campbell. “The volume of correspondence we get that is not germane to what our tasks really need to be, some of those can be handled very quickly and easily by people in the staff. Other items are informative. There has to be some kind of a separation for what really needs to come before us.”

Committee member Diana Lapham also said she didn’t see a problem. “I truly do  not believe we have an issue. I really don’t,” she said.

Lapham will give a report to the assembly on Tuesday on what happened at Monday’s committee meeting.

The deadline for agenda topics to be submitted to the clerk is 10 a.m. Monday, eight days before a scheduled assembly meeting.