Assembly postpones facilities director hire, mayor silences Morphet
September 12, 2019
The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday unanimously delayed approving new public facilities director, Ed Coffland, until December 10 when a new assembly is seated. He will continue to work unconfirmed until that time.
Borough manager Debra Schnabel hired Coffland last week to replace former public facilities director Brad Ryan, who accepted a borough manager position in Skagway.
Coffland is a civil engineer with nearly 40 years of experience in his field. Most recently, he worked as the senior project engineer at Kensington Gold Mine in Juneau from 2009 to 2016.
Last month, assembly members discussed in a committee meeting the possibility of eliminating or consolidating any of four vacating staff positions in response to statewide budget cuts, but took no action.
On Tuesday, assembly members Heather Lende and Tom Morphet voted against Coffland’s approval.
“It has nothing to do with Mr. Coffland and everything to do with the discussion at our personnel meeting about finding efficiencies when we lose people,” assembly member Heather Lende said. “If we’re trying to consolidate our staff in order to economize, it seems to me easiest to do it when people leave their jobs so people aren’t losing a job.
Assembly member Tom Morphet agreed. “I think the concern is that this is a full-time permanent position and with the cuts from the governor, we’re looking at probably a tax increase next year,” he said. “I think we shouldn’t do any hiring outside of the budget.”
Morphet proposed offering Coffland the position on a contract basis “to allow for continuity with existing projects” through the fiscal year. “If we make this position a temporary position, we will have to have the discussion,” he said.
“It’s a position, it’s not a budgetary change,” assembly member Sean Maidy said. “I think that this is a good thing to talk about, efficiencies with staff, I think that the most appropriate way to do this would be to (discuss it) in the 2020 budget.”
Assembly member Stephanie Scott said she wanted to confirm Coffland’s hire and discuss personnel questions during budget meetings.
Financial officer Jila Stuart said offering Coffland contract work would eliminate certain benefits employees are offered. “I think we’re laboring under a misconception that jobs are inherently permanent, but we expunge ‘permanent’ from all of our personnel code,” Stuart said. “They’re employed for the foreseeable future without a set end date. A contract isn’t by nature more short term or long term than an employee.”
Coffland, seated with his wife in the audience, told the assembly he “may not be interested in accepting a temporary position.” “I’ll have to give it some thought,” he said.
Lende proposed delaying Coffland’s confirmation until December, when the new assembly can discuss a strategic plan.
Assembly member Brenda Josephson said she would support the delay to save the confirmation from outright failing.
“Because of the dynamics of what’s happening right now, I feel like I need to support this,” Josephson said. “I don’t want the confirmation to fail, because we lose credibility. I really feel a new assembly is going to have fresh eyes on this.”
Residents Lori Lapeyri Smith and Don Turner Jr. told the assembly at the end of the meeting they should be ashamed of themselves for their handling of Coffland’s confirmation and worried that their discussion could negatively impact Coffland’s decision to stay in the position.
Coffland told the CNV on Wednesday that he’s not worried about job security. “I think they will, in December, confirm the position and myself,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ll just continue on as I am until that point.”
During assembly comments at the end of the meeting, Maidy chastised the assembly for not coming to consensus and criticized members for showing a lack of leadership. Morphet countered that debate is necessary to a healthy democracy, and that if Maidy didn’t like, he should “get off the assembly.”
*This story has been updated since Thursday's publication.