Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Advocate's concern is gaining ground

 


In the wake of concerns brought forward by a citizen advocate, Haines Borough officials are moving forward with changes to borough committee composition.

The assembly this week advanced an ordinance that would change the membership requirements for the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee, removing the requirement for certain members of the committee to own commercial or non-commercial vessels.

Instead, the ordinance will require holders of those seats to have experience with those types of vessels.

The ordinance also removes one of three commercial seats and adds a second at-large seat, which can be held by any resident. The constitution of the committee would be two members with commercial vessel experience, two members with experience with non-commercial vessels, one member with experience at a tariff-regulated company and two at-large members.

Resident Mike Denker has been pushing the change for months. Denker submitted a lengthy paper to the borough explaining that the requirement for ownership of property like boats was a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

The property requirement deprives otherwise qualified residents of the right to be considered for public service, Denker said.

Adding a second, at-large seat also allows any resident to apply for membership on the committee. “This allows future assemblies a broad leeway to tailor committees the way they need them,” Denker said, such as choosing members with engineering, project management or other experience that might be valuable. “It opens it up to a broader spectrum of the population base.”

The Port and Harbor Advisory Committee opposed reducing the commercial seats on the committee from three to two, as did harbormaster Shawn Bell.

“I disagree that a commercial vessel representative should lose a seat and it be transferred over to the community at-large position. The majority of the harbor customers are from commercial vessels and so I believe they should have a larger representation,” Bell said.

The harbor, however, belongs to all borough residents, not just the users, assembly member George Campbell said at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.

Assembly member Dave Berry also pointed out that the Government Affairs and Services Committee discussed the issue and recommended the commercial users lose a seat so no one group with a majority of members controls the committee.

Assembly member Diana Lapham moved to amend the ordinance to retain the third commercial seat as recommended by the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee, but the motion failed.

Denker said he’d like all committee seats to be at-large, but said the ordinance was a compromise. “I think it is a bit narrow, but it is a compromise and it does withstand constitutional scrutiny, based on my research,” he said.

The ordinance is set for a second public hearing on Aug. 11.

Denker said he also plans to bring the same argument to the borough’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, which has three seats reserved for downtown business owners.

 
 

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