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

Hill says community is hateful, vindictive

Mayor slams borough critics

 


Haines Borough Assembly members and residents this week responded to Mayor Jan Hill’s statement describing the community as the most “hateful and vindictive” as she has seen it during her lifetime.

Hill’s prepared statement, which she read at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, criticized citizen behavior and allegations.

“In all my life here, through good times and bad, I have never seen this community be so hateful and vindictive,” Hill said.

“These past few months have been trying, to say the least. It seems that every time we turn around, we are reprimanded, criticized and chastised if we don’t vote a certain way. We have been accused of not listening, ignoring public input, violating citizens’ Constitutional rights, violating our oaths of office, trying to prosecute for profit, turning our community into a ‘police state,’ power grabs, and the list goes on and on. None of these accusations are true,” Hill said.

Just because the assembly doesn’t vote the way you want, she said, doesn’t mean assembly members didn’t listen to what you had to say.

“The threats of recall and bullying that have gone on recently are totally inappropriate and unacceptable and must stop,” Hill said.

Hill also implied that by bringing issues or concerns forward to the assembly and staff, residents are displacing bigger priorities, like the wastewater treatment plant project and hire of a new manager.

“We have many important projects that require our attention, but when we are spending all of our time putting out fires and adding more and more to our staff’s workload, these projects suffer,” Hill said.

“Public input is critically important as we make decisions on behalf of the citizens of the Haines Borough, but the consequences of these decisions must also be taken into account. Who’s going to do what, and when? We have very dedicated staff, but if we continue to add duties to their already busy days, I am concerned that some things will get pushed aside, as they try to prioritize new duties, and staff morale will suffer greatly,” she continued.

Hill ended the statement by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. “I hope that we can come back together in 2016 with a fresh outlook, a newfound respect for differing opinions and new attitudes for working together for our community.”

In interviews after the meeting, assembly members expressed differing views of Hill’s comments.

“I can’t think of anything in the mayor’s comments that I would disagree with,” said Mike Case. “A small number of audience members at the assembly meetings have cast aspersions on members of management and the assembly as a whole. We were elected to do the people’s business and we attempt to do so to the best of our ability.”

Member Diana Lapham said Hill’s statement was an acknowledgement to the community and special interest groups that “we are tired of being verbally abused.”

“Her words gave me a lift to my morale that has been gone for several months. As she said, no one that has been here for any length of time has ever seen our community so divided,” Lapham said.

Lapham placed partial blame on the Chilkat Valley News, saying that the paper “really does us no favors.”

“It seems the articles are biased towards the borough being inept and not giving due process. My opinion is the paper is biased and I’m not sure why. It’s sad,” she said.

Lapham said she hopes Hill’s statement “wakes this community up,” and prompts people to contact their assembly members and come into the administration office to discuss issues. “We need this community to start coming and express their opinions in our meetings, instead of bemoaning how bad everything is.”

Member Margaret Friedenauer declined comment for this story except to point out that the statement was from Hill, not the entire assembly. “Even though the Mayor used ‘we’ and ‘the assembly’ in her comment, her comments were hers and hers alone and not seen or approved by the whole assembly before the meeting,” Friedenauer said.

Member Ron Jackson said he felt the administration and assembly play a part in spurring the contention and acrimony. “I think we help create the heated emotions by putting people in a defensive position right from the start.”

“Maybe we need to rethink our approach to public processes and how we share the decision-making space with the public,” Jackson said. “If they are not with us early and throughout the process, they are put in a reactive position at the end. That’s not a good place to start the dialogue.”

Jackson added that there is no excuse for some of the bad behavior that has occurred – community members calling the assembly “Nazis” comes to mind. “Nothing justifies that kind of behavior,” he said.

Member George Campbell said he was just plain confused, and that Hill’s statement caught him off guard. “I’m scratching my head. I don’t know what’s going on,” Campbell said. “I don’t know what precipitated those comments.”

Member Tresham Gregg questioned Hill’s assertion that the town is the most “hateful” and “vindictive” it has ever been. “We have rather large issues that we are dealing with that concern our citizens’ well-being and financial prospects. At least the community is feeling listened to enough to bother speaking.”

“The town’s business community seems to have withdrawn financially somewhat in the past several years, and there is no real vision presented to them to change that. As the state’s budget recoils, there is more fear of what is to come in the way of cuts,” Gregg said.

Resident Dana Hallett, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting when Hill read the statement, is active and engaged on a number of borough issues. The Mayor is right to be concerned about personal attacks but should be careful of not treading on peoples’ First Amendment rights, he said.

Hallett also said he believes Hill is mistaking the public’s frustration as sour grapes about a specific vote or votes. “To me, the underlying frustration is not because a vote went the wrong way, but rather the peoples’ vexation is more likely the result of not fully including the people in the decision-making process.”

For example, in a recent letter recommending the opening of out-of-bounds area for a skiing competition, former manager David Sosa said community groups and stakeholders were consulted about the proposal, when they weren’t.

Respect, Hallett said, goes both ways. For example, assembly member Campbell in June publicly referred to a resident’s argument and presentation as “bullshit.”      

“To successfully interface with their government, I believe that civility from the public is important. Civility from our elected officials is important as well,” Hallett said. “There have been breaches of civility on the part of particular assembly members, but we should not paint with a broad brush all assembly members because of the indiscretions of a few. Likewise, I think that we should not color members of our community or a sector of our community because of the coarse language of a few.”

 
 

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