Haines Mayor Jan Hill will continue to appoint volunteers to the borough’s committees and boards after a proposal to shift responsibility to voters failed Monday.

Assembly member Tom Morphet supported the idea from the audience at Monday’s assembly Government Affairs and Services Committee meeting. While not a member of the body, he said members of the borough’s boards like the planning commission, port and harbor advisory committee and public safety commission should be elected by the public.

“We live in a town that’s inherently political, and whenever we have to appoint somebody, there’s politics,” Morphet said. “I think the only way in a town as politicized as ours to get over that is to hand the process directly to the public, otherwise we’re in the middle playing politics.”

Morphet said picking someone for a board assignment is similar to hiring them for a job. The borough wants to select the best person for the position, but politics makes it a more complex decision.

Most committees rank top applicants if more than one person applies to fill a vacant seat. Those recommendations go to the Mayor, who then brings her recommendations to the assembly for approval. The only two elected bodies in the Haines Borough are the assembly and school board.

In the past year, the assembly and Mayor have disagreed on appointments to the planning and public safety commissions.

“We burned up a lot of time and a lot of energy going back and forth between who the Mayor wants on the commissions and who the assembly wants…but there’s an easier way, and that’s direct elections,” Morphet said. “In a democracy, you’re never in the wrong handing the decision to the voters.”

Morphet added that if someone is elected, it’s an “irrefutable stamp” that they represent the public.

Assembly member Heather Lende said the debate between appointing and electing has become a nationwide issue, especially with school boards.

“An elected school board might not be as democratic as an appointed one,” Lende said, citing Foraker Group research. It is difficult to place minority voices on boards in districts where a high percentage of the student population is a minority, but the majority of the voting public is white. Some school boards in the Lower 48 have chosen to elect some members and appoint others to even the odds, she said.

According to Lende’s research, a disadvantage of electing board members is campaigning, which creates conflict between serving the “greater good versus your supporters.” Appointed board members often have a dual loyalty conflict because they are often on the board because of a special interest or skill, she said.

In Skagway, Valdez, Juneau and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs all board members are appointed by the Mayor or city council. Wrangell elects three boards but appoints all others, and Petersburg elects most boards.

Lende said in Petersburg, although board members are elected, a lot of people are also appointed to fill vacancies before terms end. She said Foraker Group suggests term limits that require board members to take at least one year off after serving for a consecutive number of years to “bring in new blood,” Lende said. Foraker Group also suggested written job descriptions and individual evaluations.

Assembly member Brenda Josephson said she wanted the idea of elected board members to die at the meeting. Josephson quoted the borough charter, which states that the planning commission “shall be appointed.” She said the assembly is elected to make hard decisions and she believes it should support the charter as voted on by the public.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg said it is already difficult to get people to apply for borough committees. Running for an election, which can sometimes be a “popularity contest,” is even more intimidating, he said.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel said she thinks the discrepancies between the Mayor and assembly are fairly new, within the last decade at least, which shouldn’t warrant a change to the borough charter. “I don’t believe it’s an issue that matters that much to the community,” she said. Assembly member Stephanie Scott said she agreed that it hasn’t been a long-term issue.

Lende suggested term limits for board members, but the committee took no action.