After a half-hour of Haines Borough Assembly deliberation over whether to appoint Mayor Jan Hill as acting manager, Hill called an abrupt recess, then reconvened the meeting and moved ahead toward the next agenda item.

Working from a recommendation from the assembly’s personnel committee, assembly member Mike Case made a motion Tuesday to have Hill serve as acting manager from Dec. 6 through Dec. 31, in the wake of manager David Sosa’s resignation.

During discussion, four of the six assembly members expressed they were not supportive of Hill serving as Mayor and manager simultaneously. When Case called the question – effectively forcing a vote – Hill, who as Mayor serves as meeting chair, called an 8-minute recess.

Sosa and clerk Julie Cozzi skirted around the dais and left the chambers, returning about a minute later. When the meeting reconvened, Hill tried to move on.

“We, um, are going to move on from this topic,” Hill said. “There’s no need to work on this item; we are going to follow the organizational chart. The next item up for discussion is Mr. (Ron) Jackson’s item.”

Case pointed out there was still a motion on the table, and asked Hill to provide some sort of explanation. “Ms. Cozzi has agreed to do the job and I have agreed to help her,” Hill responded.

The personnel committee’s recommendation last week raised concerns from some members of the assembly and public, who questioned whether such an arrangement was even legal.

An opinion provided by borough attorney Patrick Munson stated that making the Mayor the acting manager wouldn’t technically be illegal, but could undermine policy. It would also require an ordinance – not a simple motion like the one made at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Absent an express prohibition, we believe the designation would be legal. The assembly must decide whether doing so is in the borough’s best interest,” Munson wrote.

Most assembly members felt it wouldn’t be, with some saying it would disturb the separation of powers between the administration and elected officials. George Campbell, Ron Jackson and Margaret Friedenauer expressed support for following the borough’s organizational chart, which states, “In the borough manager’s absence, the borough clerk will act as manager followed by other borough officers in order of seniority.”

“We’ve got a hierarchy set up for succession, so when the manager is gone, we’ve got people that are in place that are supposed to be able to pick up the slack,” Campbell said. “If that’s not possible, we have to review what’s going on with our staff and figure out how to make that work.”

Following his resignation, Sosa said Cozzi “can’t” or “is not able” to be acting manager. When asked, Sosa wouldn’t specify why. Assembly member Diana Lapham has also repeatedly stated the clerk was not an option.

“As far as the organizational chart, we don’t have that to fall back on,” Lapham said during Tuesday’s discussion. “Our (chief fiscal officer) will not take the job. Our clerk is not able to take the job. We don’t have much left to fall back on.”

Lapham staunchly advocated for Hill as acting manager, pointing out that Hill has previously stepped into leadership roles at SEARHC and the Chilkoot Indian Association. “If anybody questions her capabilities of doing this, I don’t know where you are coming from,” she said.

But none of the assembly members had publicly questioned Hill’s ability to do the job and those who didn’t support appointing Hill as acting manager stressed that their resistance had nothing to do with Hill’s abilities.

 “I’m really uncomfortable with the way this is getting personal, because I feel like I am trying really hard not to,” said assembly member Friedenauer. “My whole comment was not about Jan Hill. My comment was about crossing offices and legislative branches and the fact that we have a manager form of government. And I have no doubt of the abilities of our Mayor. That’s my point.”

Assembly member Gregg said he also believed having the Mayor serve in both capacities would be “cumbersome,” and said he would rather see public facilities director Brad Ryan serve as acting manager.

Assembly member Campbell said by his reading of code, the Mayor could not be acting manager without resigning her Mayor position. “I feel – like some of the others – that the separation of the voting and the mayorship and the manager is necessary.”

Assembly member Jackson said his “biggest issue” was also the separation of duties and powers between an elected official and a staff person. “It’s a different relationship completely in meetings and practice and everything else,” he said.

The borough has been advertising for an interim manager. The first deadline for applications is Friday.