Natalie Dawson at an April 9, 2024 borough assembly meeting in Haines, Alaska. (Lex Treinen/CVN)
Natalie Dawson at an April 9, 2024 meeting in Haines. (Lex Treinen/CVN)

At least five Haines residents have submitted ethics complaints against assembly member Natalie Dawson, claiming she had a conflict of interest when she voted to request that Constantine Metals share its operations plan with the borough, among other allegations. 

Dawson said the complaints are “false” and rely on inaccurate information about her employer, the Alaska Venture Fund. 

The complaints claim that Dawson violated Haines Borough code that prohibits assembly members from voting on issues in which they have a “substantial” financial or personal interest because, the complaints say, her employer is advocating to “protect this region from industrial development.”

The complaints — filed by Diana Lapham, Jeanette Baker, Jeanne Beck, Rachelle Galinski and Jim and Randa Szymanski — say that Dawson violated borough code and should be removed from office. George Campbell also submitted a complaint, but it wasn’t included in the April 9 assembly packet. 

Borough code defines “substantial financial interest” as “a financial interest that would result in a gain or loss exceeding $1,000 in a single transaction or more than $5,000 in the aggregate in 12 consecutive months.”

Dawson, who serves as the director of strategic planning, said the allegations result from a misunderstanding of what her employer does. The Alaska Venture Fund advocates for change through embracing “Indigenous principles, choosing sustainable strategies, and investing in new economies,” according to its website. 

The fund in itself doesn’t have a position on industrial development. Instead, it manages funds of smaller organizations including the Jilkáat Aani Ka Héeni Fund, which opposes mining development. She compared it to the Rasmuson Foundation, the statewide nonprofit that funds projects like little league parks and arts. 

Dawson said the Chilkat Indian Village manages the Jilkáat Fund. 

“They should talk to Chilkat Indian Village,” she said, “I’ve absolutely no financial skin in the mine game.”

The five letters are mostly identical. 

Constantine has not submitted a new plan of operation, which it is required by the state do before starting work this summer. The company has to file the plan with the state, at which point it becomes public information. Constantine president Peter Mercer said the company is planning presentations in Haines on April 17, 18, and 22, which are advertised in the CVN this week. 

The assembly voted 5-1, Gabe Thomas was the sole no vote, on March 26 to “Direct the Manager to request Constantine to share the 2024 and possibly 2025 Operational Plan and permitting schedule,” according to draft meeting minutes. Borough manager Annette Kreitzer said she had already made the request.

According to borough code, the clerk “may forward complaints to the borough attorney, and the borough attorney may issue an opinion,” but it is ultimately the assembly’s decision of whether to take any action on the citizen complaints. 

Kreitzer told the assembly on April 9 that she had forwarded two of the complaints to the borough attorney for review, though she didn’t say which ones. 

Mayor Tom Morphet said he didn’t think the complaints were valid based on previous interpretations of the code. He pointed to last summer, when two assembly members who were employees of Constantine voted against asking the state to extend a public comment period about exploration activity. 

“They’re outside of the bounds of what we’ve ever considered a conflict of interest,” Morphet said of the complaints. 

Another complaint accuses assembly member Ben Aultman-Moore of ethics violations, because he “did not disclose his position as a member of Lynn Canal Conservation,” which also advocates against industrial mining in the Chilkat Valley. 

Ben Aultman-Moore is not on the Lynn Canal Conservation board, and said he gave up his membership two years ago before he was elected to the assembly. 

“They’re really reaching,” said Aultman-Moore of the complaint. 

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, member Gabe Thomas said he had heard rumblings of conflict-of-interest complaint for his vote on a recent resolution in support of a fee for cruise-ship passengers directed at cultural preservation that would be co-administered with the Chilkoot Indian Association. Thomas is a member and employee of Chilkoot Indian Association’s transportation department and said he would not personally financially benefit from the vote.