At a four-hour Haines Borough Assembly meeting this week that included the deputy Mayor threatening to eject members of the public, an assembly member refusing to vote and a resident calling the group “insane,” Mayor Jan Hill pushed the controversial minor offenses ordinance onto the books.

Residents and assembly members commented on the palpable tension at the meeting, which was characterized by repeated audience outbursts, audible sighs from assembly members while others were speaking, and deputy Mayor Diana Lapham twice threatening to eject residents who applauded and interrupted proceedings.

Hill, who phoned in to the meeting, broke the tie in a confusing 3-3 vote. Assembly member George Campbell refused to cast his vote, which acting Mayor Lapham ended up counting as a “no” vote.

Assembly members Dave Berry and Ron Jackson also opposed passage and favored postponing the ordinance until committees could offer their recommendations and kinks could be worked out.

Hill, who called in because she was en route to Miami to talk with cruise ship companies, barely chimed in at Tuesday’s meeting except to break two ties. She didn’t offer an explanation for why she voted in favor of passing the ordinance.

Nearly 20 people showed up in assembly chambers – and more sent letters – asking the assembly to deny or delay passage of the minor offenses ordinance.

The assembly also voted 3-3 (with Hill again breaking the tie) to amend the ordinance, making it ineffective until Jan. 1. The amendment stated the manager must develop a policy for the issuance of citations, including who is authorized to write them and for what violations, and what training is required for issuing them. If the policy isn’t approved by resolution before Jan. 1, the ordinance will disappear.

Lapham offered the amendment, reading almost verbatim from an email manager David Sosa wrote to assembly members on Sept. 18.

“I would offer that the ordinance be amended (Section 3) such that the ordinance will not be effective until 60 days after passage during which time the manager must develop a policy for the issuance of citations. Such policy must address who is authorized to issue a citation, what titles they are authorized to write citations on, and what training is required before they are authorized to issue citations. Such policy must be approved by resolution within the 60 days and should that policy not be authorized by resolution this ordinance is null and void,” Sosa wrote.

Visibly shocked by the amendment, assembly member Campbell demanded an explanation as to why the ordinance needed to be passed that evening if it wasn’t even going to become effective until Jan. 1.

“Why don’t we postpone this until December, because if we’re not going to put it into effect until January, it doesn’t matter whether we put it in now or later. But if we wait until December, what we will do is we will get some community trust back,” Campbell said.

Several committees have already discussed the ordinance and made recommendations, Campbell said, although those recommendations and meeting minutes weren’t provided to the assembly. Passing the ordinance without seeing those minutes would be unlawful and irresponsible, he said.

Manager Sosa, who has been pushing for adoption of the ordinance, repeated that he believes the ordinance will increase the clarity of laws, and that passage now doesn’t mean code can’t be revised later to remove or amend some of the extraneous or unnecessary elements.

“Structuring this ordinance gives the community a much more detailed understanding of the violations and the fines associated with that. And it gives us an excellent starting point for code revision,” Sosa said.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman, who voted in favor of passage, said she is a trusting person, and believes that work on the minor offenses issue will continue. “I like to have hope and I like to have trust in my life. The administration has assured me that the committee work will continue on in this. I trust that,” Waterman said.

Campbell reminded everyone the assembly doesn’t work for the administration. “We represent the people sitting out here. We don’t represent our staff. We represent the public that votes. And I need people to understand that significant difference.”

Assembly member Dave Berry, who voted against passage, also repeated beliefs he has stated over and over again: It doesn’t make sense to pass the ordinance and change it later. “No matter how good our intentions are – and they are very good intentions – it’s just that something always gets in our way,” Berry said.

A phrase that continued to arise at the meeting was “silent majority,” the implication being that despite the people testifying against the minor offenses ordinance, a much larger segment of voters have said nothing.

“A lot of people that I’ve talked to said, ‘We voted for you because we trust your judgment to look into these things,’” assembly member Mike Case said. “You gotta remember 1,060 people voted in the last election. Okay, and let’s say there are 100 – there aren’t – but let’s say there are 100 people that have expressed displeasure with this. That’s a small percent.”

But resident after resident, newcomers and old-timers, came to the microphone, pleading with the assembly to postpone the ordinance.

Isaac Grody-Patinkin recently moved to Haines with his wife, a new doctor at the clinic. Patinkin said the minor offenses ordinance is the kind of legislation that breaks rather than builds trust between community members and the borough.

“This is the kind of ordinance that threatens trust-building and relationship-building, and I strongly encourage you to listen to the community. And as a new member of the community, it would be very important for me (that this) ordinance isn’t passed and is put forth to more community buy-in and reflection. As a new member of the community, that would give me a sense of safety and a sense that the assembly is listening to the community’s concerns,” Grody-Patinkin said.

Resident Kyle Ponsford testified at the beginning of the meeting, asking the assembly to consider public testimony and step back from the ordinance. “I really appreciate your guys’ work. What my problem is with the ordinance is not my problem with you,” he told the assembly.

Ponsford was considerably more agitated by meeting’s end, saying assembly member Campbell was the only one in the group abiding by the law.

“We don’t trust you because you’re insane,” he told the group. “And I use that word ‘insane’ on purpose, because your mind isn’t working right.”

When it came down to voting on the ordinance, clerk Julie Cozzi queried assembly members during the roll call vote. When she got to Campbell, he refused.

“You have no authority to do so, Sir. In code it does not allow abstention,” Cozzi told him.

“I refuse to vote,” Campbell repeated. “Arrest me, call me in contempt, whatever. I refuse to vote.”

The move cast the meeting into disarray, and Lapham called for a 10-minute break and privately consulted with Cozzi. When the meeting reconvened, Lapham cited code that states assembly members must vote unless disqualified by a conflict of interest or excused by the presiding officer before the vote for a “special reason.”

“Considering your debate against the ordinance,” Lapham said, “I as the presiding officer take your abstention as a ‘no’ vote.”

Resident Paul Nelson, a vocal critic of the ordinance, said in an interview Wednesday he intends to start a recall petition for Mayor Hill and assembly member Lapham. He said he isn’t going after Waterman because her seat is up in a month. Nelson said he also isn’t targeting Case because Case said he might have to step down due to medical problems.

“We are going to start the procedure as soon as possible,” Nelson said. “We’re not going to take this lying down.”

The 35-page minor offenses ordinance, introduced in June, contains about 250 violations and accompanying fines.

The borough administration claims the list doesn’t represent new rules or violations but compiles all existing rules in one place. Critics claim the ordinance substantially changes how laws are enforced and who can enforce them.

The assembly has scheduled a committee-of-the-whole meeting for 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, to discuss potential code revisions related to the minor offenses ordinance.