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

Clerk, attorney give go-ahead on recall

 


The effort to recall three Haines Borough Assembly members is moving forward.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi, consulting with borough attorney Brooks Chandler, this week determined that grounds were sufficient to allow applicants to gather signatures that would force a vote.

Don Turner Jr. turned in three recall petition applications April 5. Among grounds he cited was an email between police chief Heath Scott and borough manager Brad Ryan he says is evidence that assembly members Tom Morphet and Heather Lende violated borough code.

Turner cited another email, this one between assembly member Tresham Gregg and Lende as evidence that Gregg, Lende and Morphet violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. Morphet and assembly member Ron Jackson were mentioned in the email.

Cozzi and Chandler rejected three other recall claims.

The email between assembly members Gregg and Lende was about approving a 33-foot harbor extension.

“Tom and Ron and I are against it,” Gregg wrote on December 12, 2016. “Need you there too or – another mayoral privilege vote. I really don’t think it is necessary for the harbor.”

In a seven page legal opinion, Chandler recommended Cozzi review past meeting agendas to determine if the assembly members violated the Open Meetings Act by acting on what the four of them discussed outside of official borough business.

Alaska statute defines a meeting as when the majority of members are present to act on official business.

In Chandler’s memo to Cozzi, he defines official business matters as “something on which the assembly was empowered to act.” The other legal issue Chandler cites is whether four assembly members were “present.”

“There is no Alaska Supreme Court decision specifically addressing whether group emails mean those sending the emails are ‘present,’” Chandler wrote.

It appears, however, that the email in question is correspondence only between Gregg and Lende.

In the memo’s conclusions to Cozzi, Chandler did not revisit the question of members “present,” but rather told Cozzi to judge the allegation only on whether her investigation indicated the assembly “was empowered to act” on the 33-foot harbor extension as of Dec. 12, 2016.

In a phone interview, Cozzi said she determined the allegation should stay on the recall petitions because the assembly acted on the matter.

“A majority of the assembly members had talked prior to that about it outside of a public meeting, about something they were empowered to act on which they ultimately did act on,” Cozzi said.

In an email to borough officials, Cozzi said she is legally bound to accept the information in the recall petitions as true. “The Alaska Supreme Court told municipal clerks the facts stated in a petition for recall are not to be investigated by the clerk. Instead, those facts are to be presumed to be true.”

Ultimately, the assembly members didn’t act on Gregg’s wish to vote against the extension. Morphet, Lende and Jackson all voted for the 33-foot extension. Gregg voted against it.

Morphet said that just because his name was mentioned in an email doesn’t prove he was involved in the conversation.

“It’s like getting a detention because two kids in the back of the class were talking about you,” Morphet said of the allegation against him.

The attorney supported the final allegation against Morphet and Lende, Turner’s claim based on Scott’s email that efforts they made to obtain the police blotter amounted to using “an official position in order to gain a benefit.” Chandler said this was a violation of code and would constitute misconduct in office.

“Based on last night’s meeting, as well as several other encounters (documented), I believe Assembly members Morphet and Lende require direction regarding requesting HBPD to provide the blotter,” Scott wrote to interim borough manager Brad Ryan.

Scott characterized Morphet’s interest in the police blotter as a “conflict of interest” and wrote that while Lende has no financial interest, “she is affiliated with both CVN and KHNS and has interests in the welfare of these organizations.”

Scott said last week he would not comment on the recall.

It’s not clear how Turner found out about the email, but he specifically requested it in his public records request, suggesting someone with knowledge of the exchange between Scott and Ryan informed Turner about it.

Turner declined to comment on the recall or the emails.

Morphet and Lende both said they never pressured Scott to hand over the police blotter.

“I still think the police blotter is something that people in Haines like to read and I think it actually helps the police department and I said it as a suggestion,” Lende said of her interactions with Scott.

Morphet said he deliberately didn’t use his borough position or the CVN to lobby for the blotter, although he wrote an essay about the importance of it on a personal blog he maintains.

Attorney Chandler dismissed three other allegations against Gregg in the recall application. In two of the four allegations against him, Turner cited non-existent borough code. Even if the applicants cited valid code, the attorney said the applicants failed to identify actions by Gregg that violated code.

The attorney also dismissed allegations of Morphet and Lende directing then borough manager Bill Seward, also against borough code, because they weren’t seated as assembly members at the time they made requests of Seward.

Now that the recall petitions have moved forward, Turner has 60 days to garner 285 signatures for each petition. Cozzi will have 10 days to verify the signatures before a special recall election will be held.

 
 

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