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

TAB members frustrated by vacant tourism director job


September 26, 2019

The Haines Borough Assembly directed borough manager Debra Schnabel to advertise for a new tourism director after the position had been vacant for several weeks. The move comes after the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) last week requested the assembly hire a new director, and expressed dissatisfaction regarding the lack of communication with Schnabel regarding the position.

Rainbow Glaciers Adventures owner Joe Ordonez told the advisory board he found out through reading the CVN that former tourism director Carolann Wooton had been hired for a borough administrative position. He said he wished that there had been more communication between the borough and tour operators. “It seems to me the professional way to do business,” Ordonez said. “I’m sorry to see the seat’s vacated over there and I’ve got a bunch of questions and really no one to ask.”

TAB chair Barbara Mulford also said it was unfortunate that she found out about the vacant position through the news media rather than borough staff.

“It does leave the appearance that the administration is not supporting tourism when a position comes and goes without notice and with such lackluster,” member Andy Hedden said.

Board member Sean Gaffney said tourism-related issues, such as a cruise ship sailing through the fishing fleet in Chilkat Inlet earlier this month, could have been better handled had a tourism director been able to communicate with the affected parties.

Mulford said the news that Holland America is reducing its visits to Haines next year should have been relayed through a tourism director, not the borough manager.

Schnabel told the CVN this week she didn’t initially post the job because she has long thought that the borough should create a public-private partnership with the tourism industry, and that the local tourism industry should take on the fiscal and organizational responsibilities of promoting tourism, rather than the government. She wanted the assembly to have that conversation. Schnabel this summer brought to the assembly the idea to rededicate a portion or all of the 1 percent tourism and economic development tax revenues to the borough’s general fund.

Schnabel cited the more than $200,000 the tax brings in that is beyond the cost of operating the tourism department. She said the current model worked well to bolster the tourism industry, but now that it’s healthy, a new model should be in place. “Now that we are a mature industry I think the model doesn’t serve us very well,” Schnabel said. “I think…those who are engaged in the industry should participate financially in managing that business to do what it is they’d like it to do.”

Haines Rafting Company owner and TAB member Andy Hedden told the CVN that the motivation behind the manager’s decision not to post the job was an “inappropriate direction to take without approval from the assembly.”

Mulford agreed. “It’s incredibly inappropriate.”

Schnabel told the CVN she didn’t feel the tourism department was in jeopardy because it had an interim director, but it was Holland America’s announcement last week that provided an impetus to advertise for the job. “As soon as Holland American pulled out that did kind of jack up the issue of what did we want to do,” Schnabel said.

Schnabel also told TAB members in an email last week that the assembly had been “vocal about using attrition as a tool for downsizing” as the primary reason she did not initially advertise the position. Schnabel did hire earlier this month a contracts and grants administrator and public facilities director without assembly approval.

“Your reasons for not filling the position upon vacancy has the appearance of intentionally forcing the position out through attrition,” Mulford wrote to Schnabel.

In the same email thread, Schnabel said she wanted to have a public discussion regarding a public-private partnership model, but that the discussion was “intricately entwined with the department funding mechanism and the tourism director being an employee bargaining unit position.”

Mulford questioned if Schnabel was advancing an agenda to remove the dedicated tourism and economic development sales tax. “Are you suggesting that you are campaigning to have the dedicated sales tax removed?” Mulford wrote. “If so, that is extremely inappropriate to pursue outside of a legitimate public process.”

The position’s salary ranges from between $50,336 to $52,416 and will be posted for two weeks.

Schnabel told the assembly Tuesday evening that several local people have expressed interest in the job.


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