Borough Manager Annette Kreitzer (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)
Borough Manager Annette Kreitzer (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

Last week, Haines Borough Manager Annette Kreitzer gave 60 days notice to the mayor and borough assembly. Her last day will be Aug. 12. 

Kreitzer, who said she was not willing to talk more about her reasons for leaving until closer to her end date, said in her resignation memo that she was disappointed that she and the assembly “have not been able to forge a better working relationship.” 

A breakdown in negotiations

Kreitzer, whose contract was set to expire in September, is being paid $130,000 according to borough’s 2024 budget

Mayor Tom Morphet said when the assembly had conversations with her about her plans for the future, she asked for a raise.

“She asked for $143,000 beginning in June,” he said. “Now, I didn’t think that was unreasonable given that without a planner and now without a clerk, I expect the manager would have to do more work.” 

But, he said, during those discussions – some assembly members pointed out that if she were not going to stay past September, or they were going to choose not to renew her contract, an increase in her pay seemed illogical. 

“The assembly wasn’t willing to go for that,” he said. 

Ultimately, during the last assembly meeting, on June 11, they did not vote on whether to give her a raise – but did direct her to immediately post a recruitment notice for her position. 

Because the substantive conversations happened during executive session, it wasn’t immediately clear why they’d chosen not to vote on Kreitzer’s salary increase request and offer to remain with the borough through Sept. 30, a fact she alluded to in the opening line of her resignation memo. She went on to say that when she followed up with Morphet, he told her the assembly had decided that it is “not interested,” in her offer to stay on, but with a raise.

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

Assembly member Natalie Dawson said it was not Kreitzer’s request for a raise that led to the assembly’s lack of response to her offer. 

“Our decision was based on performance discussions we had in executive session, not based on the salary request made by the manager,” Dawson wrote in an email. 

Dawson said assembly members were short on time after the executive session which is why they didn’t have more public conversation about their decision-making. The group came out of executive session with just minutes to spare before a mandated adjournment at 10 p.m. 

“So it was 9:58 when we restarted the public meeting and only had time to make the vote on the decision to post the position, and then the meeting had to adjourn,” she said. “It’s a bummer – I wish we had more time to discuss our reasons for the vote so the public could be privy to our discussions in executive session.”

A contentious relationship 

The relationship between the current assembly and Kreitzer has been strained for some time. 

During a February evaluation of Kreitzer’s performance, assembly members gave her low marks on her communication with them.

That evaluation came at a time when borough staff had several high-profile stumbles that jeopardized funding on key infrastructure needs like the Porcupine Trail Road, the Lutak Dock rebuild project and last year’s property tax assessments, which ultimately led to the dismissal of the borough’s assessor. 

Craig Loomis votes for priorities with a sticker during a goal setting session. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

“It was kind of a hassle being able to get information,” said assembly member Craig Loomis. “Sometimes we’d get information that she knew about for weeks, and we’d get it … the same day as the meeting and it was very, very frustrating for us.” 

Loomis said despite these frustrations, he didn’t think Kreitzer would resign before her contract was up in September. 

She has been with the borough since 2021, when she was hired to replace former borough manager-now assemblymember Debra Schnabel. 

Before arriving in Haines, Kreitzer spent 18 years working in the legislature and as commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration. She said at the time that she wanted to bring stability to a job that has a high turnover rate. 

In 2020, the CVN reported that Haines hired a new borough manager every 1.8 years, on average, since the position was created in 2002. During that same time period, other Southeast municipalities averaged a new manager every three to six years.

A constant churn

Borough leaders have differing opinions on why the turnover rate is so high for managers. 

Mayor Morphet floated the idea that it is political, that new assemblies will replace managers hired by the old ones. 

In Kreitzer’s case, she was hired by an assembly that leaned toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. That assembly evaluated her job performance as “above average.” She was given top marks for her communication by everyone sitting on the assembly at the time.  

However three of the five current assembly members are new and lean further to the left. 

“You can’t separate government and politics, it’s impossible,” said Morphet. “Haines is fraught with politics.” 

Assembly member Debra Schnabel speaks as Kevin Forster looks on at a May 14 assembly meeting. “Our owner advisor has failed us,” Schnabel said of R&M Engineering after revelations of a nearly $3 million bill from Turnagain. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

But assemblymember Schnabel, who was fired as city manager by a former assembly in 2020, said she doesn’t think the breakdown is happening along party lines. Rather, it involves a lack of communication and clear goals or expectations to follow. 

“I mean, when I was the manager, it was perceived by members of the Assembly that I was working off my own agenda,” she said. “I’ve heard that from assembly members with Annette (Kreitzer) also.” 

To Schnabel, this is a reflection of a key difference between the role of the manager and the role of assembly members. The manager sees many of the problems that happen every day throughout the borough. 

“You really want a solution sometimes,” she said. “So you come up with ideas for how to solve problems and for some reason it gets interpreted as this is your agenda.”

Schnabel said people get caught up in personality issues and conflict between the elected body and its hired manager – but she thinks a lot of the ongoing issues could be resolved with better communication. 

That’s an idea Morphet echoed. He said he’s floated the idea that after every October election, the new assembly sits down with the manager. 

“It sets the tone,” he said. “So the manager understands what the assembly is looking for. I think it’s a mistake to assume that every assembly is going to agree with every past assembly. People who hold [administration] jobs have to bend with a new government.” 

Both Morphet and Schnabel alluded to the ideal of a borough manager who stayed on through multiple assemblies. Someone who has longevity, who knows the town and the job. 

“I think a lot of things are unsettled at Haines has always been a contentious place anyway even when things were going smoothly at the state and federal level. I think we’ll muddle through it, we don’t really have a choice,” Morphet said. “I don’t think the sky is falling but it’s certainly stormy weather.”

Staffing concerns

Kreitzer’s is the latest in a string of resignations that are leaving the Haines borough increasingly short-staffed in key positions including the borough planner and clerk, and police dispatchers. 

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, Alaska. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

In an email last week, Kreitzer wrote that they’re also looking for a planning and zoning technician, ready to recruit a police officer and may also be looking for a deputy manager depending on funding in next year’s budget.  

The shortage has caused existing borough staff to fill in and take on extra work. Kreitzer warned in late May that this could cause staff burnout. She said she expects people will begin to feel the impact of having so many unfilled positions soon. 

“Definitely phones may go to voicemail so people should leave messages and not call back multiple times. I am considering forwarding phones to voicemail on Tuesdays as we prepare for Assembly or Planning Commission meetings,” she wrote. 

She pointed to a backlog of 1,300 emails in her inbox from employees, members of the assembly, state and federal contacts, members of the public and media – though some of those emails have already been handled.

“We are slow to act on enforcement – I have a letter from our Fire Chief responding to my request to look at a building that likely has to be condemned. I haven’t had time to send a letter to the owner,” she said. 

Kreitzer said permitting is her biggest concern as the construction season is short. 

“For some people who rarely interact with local government, they might not notice anything,” she wrote. “Residents are more likely going to be most surprised if they haven’t contacted us in some time and are expecting a response time similar to a year or so ago.” 

Assemblymember Dawson said the assembly has had discussions about salary increases for key leadership positions and that the body should make sure recruitment notices show those salary increases and that the positions are being advertised well. 

“I think it is important to remember that with the manager position in flux, it may be more difficult to hire for the other positions because I would imagine people interested in the clerk and planner positions would want to know who their direct supervisor would be,” Dawson wrote in an email. “This is why the assembly asked the manager to immediately post the recruitment notice for the manager position – so we can prioritize this hire in the coming weeks.”