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

Assembly and mayor disagree over commission appointment


April 26, 2018

The Haines Borough Assembly rejected Mayor Jan Hill’s recommendation to appoint Zach Ferrin to the planning commission—a decision that highlighted the political nature of the appointment process.

The Mayor appoints board and commission members subject to assembly approval, according to borough code. When filling vacancies, local advisory bodies rank applicants based on a score sheet and recommend applicants to the Mayor, although the Mayor is not bound by those recommendations. The planning commission at its last meeting recommended Jessica Kayser Forster fill a vacancy left by Larry Geise who resigned last month. Forster received the highest score and Ferrin came in third, according to the commission’s scoring process.

Despite that process, Hill recommended Ferrin in the interest of community diversity and the need to represent broad interests, she said. “I felt and I still feel very strongly that Mr. Ferrin represents a closer match to Mr. Geise’s expertise and qualifications,” Hill said during Tuesday’s assembly meeting.

Forster’s application to sit on the planning commission generated controversy on the “Haines Rant & Rave” Facebook group after Don Turner Jr. made what he later called inappropriate remarks about Forster and her political perspectives on the group thread. Turner apologized to Forster during public comment.

Forster told the assembly she felt she has been misrepresented. “Mayor Hill, you’ve never spoken to me and therefore I have to believe your reasoning for going against the [planning commission’s] vote, and not appointing me because I fail to bring diversity and balance, comes from a misunderstanding of what I do professionally and what I stand for personally,” Forster said during public comment.

Forster is a natural resource management consultant and works for the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition as a mitigation program manager where she advises and consults with state, federal and local government agencies on mitigation programs in alignment with the Clean Water Act, according to her resume.

Ferrin has worked for the Alaska Department of Transportation’s construction division for almost 17 years, he wrote in the application’s qualification section.

Assembly member Heather Lende said she was disappointed that Hill didn’t recommend Forster. Lende said she was concerned Hill overturned the planning commission’s recommendation “based on potentially slanderous rumors spread by cyber bullies.” She said Forster was the most qualified candidate and she was the “unanimous choice” of the planning commission. Hill said she was aware of the comments on social media, but never read them and was not influenced by those comments.

The assembly often strays from commission recommendations. The public safety commission earlier this year recommended two members for appointment that were forwarded to the assembly by Hill. The assembly delayed a vote on those appointments in February after failing to secure a majority vote on either of the recommendations after assembly members Brenda Josephson and Tom Morphet wanted to appoint a member who scored third in the commission’s ranking process.

In February, Hill spoke to the public safety commission’s perceived frustration that the assembly disagrees with many of its recommendations. “The assembly has challenged every recommendation that you have made,” Hill told the commission. “I have been unable to rationalize the assembly’s positions and for this reason I take the route of supporting the public safety commission with my appointments.”

Some planning commission members have also expressed frustration when the assembly disagrees with their recommendations. Commission member Donnie Turner, however, told the assembly he was disappointed they failed to support Hill’s choice to appoint Ferrin.

Morphet told the assembly he supported Forster, but wants to change borough code to make many of the advisory board seats elected positions. “In terms of who matches whom, these are all political decisions that I think would be much better made by the voters of this borough,” Morphet said. “I’m going to be pushing for that because I think this whole exercise is unnecessary and can be decided by voters.”

Forster also spoke to the appointment process, warning the assembly and the Mayor against selecting individuals on extreme ends of the political spectrum. “At the very basic level we can either appoint individuals who represent the opposite ends of the spectrum that usually result in drama and conflict, or we can choose to appoint individuals whose life experience, professional experience and/or educational experience exemplifies consensus building and compromise- and who base decisions based on best-available science and data, local knowledge and what is best for our rural, low income communities and not the special interest groups.”

Sitka’s and Juneau’s assemblies make appointments. Wrangell elects its port commission, but other appointments are done by the same process as Haines. Petersburg holds elections for many of its boards and commissions. Like Haines, Skagway’s Mayor makes appointments, subject to assembly approval.

The assembly voted 5-1 in opposition to Hill’s recommendation, with Josephson in support. The assembly later voted 5-1 to request that the Mayor affirm the planning commission’s choice of Forster.

“I will take that motion under advisement,” Hill said.


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