After nearly two hours of discussion, eight votes and considerable flip-flopping, the Haines Borough Assembly this week decided to postpone a vote on adoption of the controversial minor offenses ordinance until its Sept. 22 meeting.

Eight members of the public testified against adoption at Tuesday’s meeting, reiterating concerns they have repeatedly brought to the attention of the assembly and various committees: the Planning Commission and several other committees haven’t reviewed it, the ordinance opens the door to arbitrary enforcement, and there’s no established code or policy on how enforcement officers will be chosen or trained.

After listening to the testimony and discussing the matter, the assembly struggled with procedure and eventually ended up voting 4-2 to schedule a third public hearing on Nov. 10. Assembly members Joanne Waterman and Diana Lapham were opposed.

The matter appeared settled, but about 15 minutes later – after the assembly moved to its next piece of business and concerned citizens had left the chambers – assembly member Ron Jackson interjected in the middle of the manager’s report that he wanted to reconsider his vote.

Jackson said he believed by passing the ordinance, officers would be empowered to enforce the laws on the books, and the assembly could still commit to continue work on elements of the legislation that have generated concern.

“The discussion will shift, I think, a lot to fixing things instead of objecting to things,” he said.

Assembly members Dave Berry and George Campbell warned Jackson reconsidering the vote after everyone left would cause a backlash. Berry pointed out that while they did everything by the book, such a move would look like “backdoor politics.”

“You know the perception is going to be out there: ‘They waited until everybody left, then changed their mind.’ Which we’re allowed to do; however, it’s just not going to look right,” Berry said.

With Jackson’s change of heart, the vote to schedule a third public hearing shifted to 3-3. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie, voting against the third public hearing.

Back to square one, Waterman moved to adopt the ordinance. Campbell objected, moving to instead postpone the adoption vote to Sept. 22. Several committees already have met to discuss the ordinance and have made recommendations, Campbell pointed out, and to move forward without taking those recommendations into account would be disrespectful.

“I’m sorry, this is about the biggest slap in our community’s face that I can imagine doing, would be passing this right now,” he said.

Still, the motion to postpone the vote until Sept. 22 failed again 3-3, with Mayor Hill breaking the tie and voting against postponement. That left the motion to adopt the ordinance on the table.

Seconds before clerk Julie Cozzi began to take a roll call vote on the adoption, Waterman piped up. She wanted to reconsider her vote.

Waterman, who had stated previously in the meeting that she had “no problem” with the existing document, said she was confident important work on the ordinance would continue, but she understood where Berry and Campbell were coming from in terms of public perception.

“I don’t think by postponing this until the 22nd it will hinder what needs to happen. And I’m willing to wait,” she said.

The 35-page ordinance contains about 250 minor offenses and accompanying fines. The borough administration claims the list doesn’t represent new rules or violations but compiles all existing rules in one place. Manager David Sosa has also stated the point of the ordinance is to increase awareness of the law and ease of access to information. 

Sosa acknowledged that there is still work that needs to be done on the ordinance, in terms of amending or removing violations the assembly or public finds redundant and addressing the issue of how employees will be trained to issue citations.

  Critics contend the ordinance substantially changes how laws are enforced and who can enforce them, as the ordinance allows the manager to give other employees the power to write citations “as deemed necessary.”

  The ordinance also doesn’t outline any kind of “warning” period or standard for enforcement for violations, such as giving a 10-day window to correct the problem before a ticket is issued, critics have stated.

  Resident Brenda Josephson, a vocal critic of the ordinance who has publicly spoken against the legislation at almost every opportunity, said she feels the assembly is pulling a “bait and switch” by trying to pass the ordinance before the input of committees and boards can be taken into consideration.

  The Government Affairs and Services Committee and the Public Safety Commission recommended postponement of the ordinance until it could be reviewed by other groups. The Port and Harbor Advisory Committee recommended passing the ordinance but dealing with the flaws later.

  In addition to Josephson, Heather Lende, Roger Schnabel, Carol Tuynman, Kyle Ponsford, Paul Nelson, Leonard Dubber and Dean Lari all testified against passage of the ordinance. Port and Harbor Advisory Committee member Don Turner spoke in favor.

Lende, a planning commissioner, said she is concerned that if the ordinance is passed, people will begin getting tickets for things like jaywalking, not having proper taillights on their bike or driving with a dog in the back of their pick-up truck.

“You can say, ‘Well, we’re not going to enforce these and they are already on the books,’ but what concerns me about that is then the enforcement is going to be completely arbitrary. And when we don’t like someone, they’re going to get a ticket for walking across the middle of Main Street from Howsers to the parking lot,” she said.