Manager addresses assembly, mayor after her termination
No plans yet to advertise the position
May 28, 2020
Former Haines Borough manager Debra Schnabel on Tuesday night addressed the assembly members and Mayor who fired her last week, and placed final responsibility on Mayor Jan Hill, who broke a 3-3 tie vote in favor of firing Schnabel.
“This decision was yours,” Schnabel told Hill. “I am very disappointed. It seems to me that this could have been an opportunity to lead, to identify the larger issues needing our attention: economic recovery, long term revenue development, budget policy, to name a few. Many people, including people who are critical of me and my management, have entered the dialogue with extreme displeasure over this abrupt action.”
The assembly appointed borough clerk Alekka Fullerton as interim borough manager Tuesday and gave her a 20% raise.
When asked when the borough plans to advertise for the manager position, assembly member Brenda Josephson said the assembly has not discussed it. “Right now, we need to get through the budget,” Josephson said “I can’t imagine a timeline for the hire will be finalized before the budget is finished. Right now we have so many full agendas.”
Hill told the CVN that the borough will follow the “typical hiring process for all borough employees once they start moving forward.”
The motion to fire Schnabel included language that would give her time to publicly respond to statements made about her during public meetings.
Assembly member Paul Rogers, Brenda Josephson and Gabe Thomas voted to fire Schnabel. At a public meeting on May 12, Rogers made a motion to meet with the borough attorney to discuss her termination and listed several reasons why she should be fired. The day before, he had asked her to resign and that if she chose not to, he would make the motion to terminate her the following day.
A public statement without a signature was released in this week’s assembly packet stating that the assembly and Mayor did not find that Schnabel violated code or charter “or acted dishonestly or fraudulently in the course of her employment by the borough.”
The statement also said the assembly and Mayor fired Schnabel “based on what was felt to be in the best interests of the citizens of the borough” and that their relationship with Schnabel was “broken and not capable of repair.” No further details were included and the statement said the assembly would not comment further on the matter.
In her comments Tuesday, Schnabel said she was denied due process in the form of an employment evaluation.
“But the assembly was not interested in hearing or trying to understand the interactions from my point of view. The community would be better informed and engaged if you had.”
During discussion of the May 12 motion to terminate the manager, Josephson said she received calls from citizens from morning to night airing complaints about Schnabel. On Tuesday, Schnabel asked why Josephson never scheduled a meeting with her to discuss the issues raised.
“I’m embarrassed to tell you that assembly member Josephson reserves communicating her displeasure with me for public statements and scolding email messages,” Schnabel said. “In the experience of municipal managers, we call this ‘playing gotcha.’ It is a controlling and competitive tactic that serves to demoralize a manager. It is certainly evidenced in assembly member Rogers’ shock and awe approach to my termination.”
Several members of the public expressed disappointment in the assembly and mayor’s action. Ron Jackson said Rogers’ attempt to ask Schnabel to resign was a breach of ethics as an assembly person.
“What if she had resigned (after being confronted by Rogers outside of an assembly meeting)?” Jackson asked. “The assembly role of supervisor as a collective would have been bypassed. In essence, Paul would have functionally elevated himself to the sole supervisor of the manager through intimidation, a serious ethical violation in my opinion.”
Spencer Douthit asked the Mayor and assembly members for more explanation as to why Schnabel was terminated.
“The difference between the public comment and the actions of these public servants tells me that there is more going on that has not been explained to borough citizens,” Douthit said.
Hill said the borough would not comment further on the matter.
Assembly member Stephanie Scott was opposed to Schnabel’s termination. She said the borough’s statement that stated she was fired without cause was inaccurate.
“There was cause for her behavior, explained by Paul (Rogers) and so even though we’re claiming this as termination without cause, I don’t think that’s accurate.”
Schnabel hired an attorney when the assembly voted to consult their borough attorney. Schnabel’s counsel claimed Rogers defamed Schnabel in public and in the Chilkat Valley News, and that the assembly violated Schnabel’s employment contract by not giving her an annual evaluation.
Under section three of Schnabel’s contract entitled “performance evaluation,” language requires an annual review of “current goals and performance objectives” between the assembly and manager “which they determine necessary for the proper operation of the borough.”
Schnabel was given an evaluation three months after her hire in 2017 and again in August 2018, but not since then.