Borough Clerk Alekka Fullerton announced her resignation during an assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Haines, Alaska. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)
Borough Clerk Alekka Fullerton announced her resignation during an assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Haines. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

In a blow to the already short-staffed borough Haines Borough clerk Alekka Fullerton is quitting her job due to what she called “a lack of respect for staff or staff’s work.”

Mayor Tom Morphet read Fullerton’s letter of resignation during the April 9 assembly meeting. Fullerton and several other borough officials had tears in their eyes during and after the announcement. 

In an interview on Wednesday, Fullerton pointed to the assembly and planning commission’s recent statements and actions concerning the planned Lutak Dock rebuild project, an executive session she thought was illegal, and the process they followed when making a decision regarding a permit for gravel storage on Lutak Road. 

“I have never worked for a less transparent assembly or planning commission,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I have seen so much back door dealings that I have not seen in my eight years with the borough.” 

In her letter of resignation, said she  “cannot take the lack of respect for staff or staff’s work any longer.”

After Fullerton’s announcement, assembly members and the mayor praised her work at the borough. 

Member Ben Aultman-Moore said it was a loss for the borough. 

“I don’t know anybody who would say they’re glad Alekka was leaving,” he said. “In terms of institutional knowledge at the administration, she’s the best we’ve got. We’re headed into outer space right now it feels like.”

“I’m gonna miss her. She keeps that borough moving,” said Gabe Thomas. “We just had one of the best employees we’ve had resign.”

Longtime member Debra Schnabel said Fullerton brought a standard of performance and professionalism to the job that “has not been available to us for many, many years.”

She asked for a break during the meeting after the resignation was announced to process the news.

“We are in a crisis. We don’t have a planner, we don’t have a clerk, we don’t have help for our administration,” Schnabel said. 

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Schnabel said that she was surprised to learn Fullerton’s reasoning for leaving. 

“Her frustration with the assembly was not made apparent to me. Perhaps members of the assembly and the mayor could have been more in tune to her frustration,” she said. “It seemed like an abrupt decision. It would have been nice to have an exposure — to be warned by the clerk we were approaching a resignation.”

Fullerton’s history with borough  

Fullerton arrived in Haines in 2015 from California and by the next year had applied for the job as deputy clerk. She served in that position for a year and a half before stepping into the clerk’s role. 

In 2020 after the assembly fired its previous manager, Fullerton assumed the role of borough manager for more than a year. Her service coincided with the fatal 2020 landslides and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“One of my proudest things is we were able to keep COVID out of this town during the landslide,” she said, pointing to the system of testing requirements the borough instituted as people flooded into the community.

Fullerton applied for the job as manager, but said her heart wasn’t in it. 

“I don’t think I hid the fact that I loved being the clerk,” she said. “But I’m a sucker for doing what needs to get done and I felt like someone needed to step up and be willing to do it.”

She returned to her position as clerk when the borough hired Annette Kreitzer as manager. Fullerton said she enjoyed her job as clerk, particularly running elections and working through problems with citizens. 

“When I get to help people navigate whatever they’re trying to navigate and help them with this bizarre system we sometimes have — that’s my favorite part of the job,” she said.  

Fullerton said she originally had planned for a May 15 resignation, but said she might stay slightly longer into the summer because of her contract requirements and in order to help Kreitzer find a replacement. 

She said she has no immediate plans to leave Haines. 

“I honestly don’t know (what’s next),” she said. “I am not a person who’s ever wanted to be defined by their career. I enjoy new challenges. I like diversity. I like doing different things. I’ll land somewhere.”

Concerns about borough staffing

Borough planner Andrew Conrad also recently resigned. He did not give a reason for his departure but borough manager Annette Kreitzer attributed it to disrespectful behavior by members of the public. Public facilities director Ed Coffland recently resigned for a family issue. 

The borough has job listings posted for a planning technician, an assistant to the manager, and an assistant harbormaster. The police chief resigned last year, and the borough has been relying on Josh Dryden as interim chief as it seeks to finalize a contract with him.  

Kreitzer said she would decide whether to stay on sometime this summer, after a planned evaluation by the assembly. She said a contract with Dryden should be ready soon, and  she is in talks with a candidate for the facilities job. 

Several members of the public raised the issue of harassment of public officials during the assembly meeting. One commenter even suggested the borough hold a workshop to discuss the lack of staff before Fullerton announced her resignation. 

Officials haven’t given the same reason for quitting, but assembly members have raised issues of low pay and harassment.

Schnabel called the vacancies a “crisis” and said it reflects the toxic atmosphere in the borough. 

She said after a recent vacation out of state she had second thoughts about coming home. 

“I, for the first time in my life, did not want to come home,” she said, pointing to beratement over code violations, public records requests, and assembly business. “It’s exhausting and it’s demoralizing and it’s hurtful.”

Others, like Aultman-Moore, pointed to low pay compared to comparable positions in other communities. 

“That goes for both the big positions and especially the smaller positions,” he said. “In order to get more qualified people we might have to make cuts elsewhere.”

Fullerton pointed to the assembly’s own actions on the Lutak Dock as one reason  why she is leaving.

The assembly has suggested looking at a smaller dock than the current rebuild plans, which would cost $25 million. Fullerton said the suggestion to let the grant lapse while moving toward a different design was offensive. 

“The team that we had here worked on that RAISE grant for eight years and we got it, it was fantastic,” she said. “I’ve heard more than three assembly members say ‘Oh well, we’ll walk away from this money.’ Then what? You think your property taxes are high now?”

She also pointed to a recent decision by the assembly to enter into an executive session with several members of the public to  discuss a settlement about a controversial heliport in the Upper Valley. Fullerton and the borough’s attorney both advised the assembly the executive session was not legally defensible. The assembly voted unanimously to enter the session anyway.

“That is wrong on so many levels. I care too much. I wish I didn’t care as much as I do. But if they’re not going to take my advice, I can’t guide them, which is my job,” she said. 

One assembly member said that the loss of Fullerton, while a blow to the borough, could also be an opportunity. Natalie Dawson said she’d served at other organizations that had entire leadership structures collapse when younger people came in with new energy and ideas. 

“I think the question is how do you handle the challenges and opportunities presented by vacancies,” she said. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Alekka Fullerton’s comments about why she decided to resign. Specifically, to show that her concerns are with the process the assembly and planning commissioners followed to make decisions, not the decisions themselve.  It also clarifies that Fullerton was offended by the idea of letting grant funding lapse while seeking a different design for Lutak Dock, not the idea of seeking a different design.