Haines Borough Assembly member George Campbell is alleging the assembly violated the Open Meetings Act when members held individual meetings with the headhunting firm charged with finding the municipality’s next manager and police chief, but other assembly members are unconcerned.

Campbell contends a violation occurred because four assembly members had individual meetings with the headhunting firm, and information collected during those meetings was used to make a decision – specifically, development of the profiles that would be used in the candidate advertisements.

“The private, unpublished meetings assembly members had with the hiring firm, with the purpose of those meetings being the genesis of a public policy/action decision, is a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Campbell wrote in a letter to his fellow assembly members.

Campbell specifically cited the court case Hickel v. Southeast Conference, in which the Supreme Court upheld a trial court finding that “several one-on-one conversations by reapportionment board members, coupled with a lack of substantive discussion in a public meeting, was sufficient evidence to affirm the trial court finding that business was being conducted outside scheduled meetings in violation of the OMA.”

Though the assembly briefly discussed and set the salary range for the advertisements and the timelines for the hiring processes, the group didn’t approve the candidate profiles that would be used in the advertisements, instead leaving that approval to staff, Campbell said.

“For the assembly to allow staff, the Mayor, or a small group of assembly members to select the method and means of hiring the manager, and allow approval of an advertisement for the manager be done by staff, is not in keeping with code and is a dereliction of the oath of office we took to become assembly members. To allow such action without a legal public meeting is not only unconscionable, but against Alaska state law,” Campbell wrote.

Interim manager Brad Ryan consulted with borough attorney Brooks Chandler on Campbell’s allegation, and Chandler concluded while the individual meetings could present a problem, the fact that the assembly discussed the matter at its Feb. 23 meeting remedied the violation.

“If, after the individual meetings with more than three assembly members took place, the assembly as a whole discussed the content of each ‘candidate profile’ in a properly noticed public meeting and approved the materials, the previous violation has been ‘cured.’ No additional assembly action is required,” Chandler wrote.

Campbell objected to Chandler’s analysis, saying the assembly didn’t approve the candidate profiles – they approved salary ranges and timelines – and it wasn’t publicly noticed that the profiles would be discussed at the Feb. 23 meeting.

Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer argued that by approving the contract for headhunting firm Brimeyer Fursman, it effectively approved whatever candidate profile the firm developed.

The contract stipulates the firm will conduct community surveys and input forums, as well as develop community profiles and advertise, Friedenauer pointed out.

“It didn’t need our approval,” Friedenauer said, speaking of the candidate profiles. “Everything they did was in the contract that we approved.”

Assembly member Diana Lapham grew frustrated with the discussion on Tuesday, which Campbell brought up at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour long meeting. Lapham called Campbell’s claims “blown out of proportion.”

Lapham stated the she “trusts staff explicitly” and that Campbell’s concerns seem to stem from his lack of trust in clerk Julie Cozzi’s ability to meet with the headhunting firm representatives and approve the final candidate profiles.

“I’m really saddened that a lot of these issues have come up because of a lack of trust,” Lapham said.