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

Mayoral candidates contrast leadership styles at final forum


October 1, 2020

Haines’ two mayoral candidates—incumbent Jan Hill and challenger Doug Olerud—spent much of the Sept. 25 KHNS-CVN forum highlighting their similarities. Both grew up in the Chilkat Valley, say they want to promote civil discourse in borough government and describe a vision for Haines that involves job creation through expanded resource development.

Candidates differ in the main message they’re using to pitch themselves to voters. Hill emphasizes her years of experience as Mayor, connections at the state level and the time she’s able to devote to the job.

“Through my years of service, I have made numerous contacts and I have established great working relationships with many community, state and national leaders. My broad range of experience enables me to serve as a resource to Haines,” Hill said. “Because I’m retired and I have the time, this is my full-time job.”

Olerud highlights his concern that the current assembly and Mayor don’t do enough to represent the voices of the entire community and his experience as a businessman.

During the campaign, “I’ve had numerous conversations that started with ‘I know we don’t agree on many things politically, but I know you’re open minded, fair and have the best interest of Haines at heart,’” Olerud said. “I look forward to bringing my past assembly experience plus my business experience to work on behalf of all residents of the Haines Borough.”

Both described the mayor’s job as that of a liaison between various entities including the assembly, borough manager, public, and state and federal representatives.

Olerud said he will bring a more active leadership style to the position.

“I’m going to be much more engaged during an assembly meeting… I will be voicing opinions and asking questions during the debate to try and get a better end result for the borough,” Olerud said. “If there’re things I think are being left unsaid during any conversation, I’m going to ask those questions, I’m going to be prodding people to make sure we’re exploring all avenues before we make a decision as an assembly.”

Hill agreed that her leadership style differs from Olerud’s.

“I believe that communication is a huge part of the mayor’s job, and the most important part of communication is listening. I think that listening is just as important as prodding people to get them to talk,” Hill said, adding that she’s never had a hard time getting assembly members to speak their minds.

Olreud and Hill also differ when it comes to questions about some of the more contentious issues the assembly tackled this past year—the firing of manager Debra Schnabel and the defunding of the Haines Economic Development Corporation (HEDC).

Hill, who broke a tie vote in favor of firing Schnabel, said the manager was set up for failure because the assembly ignored public comment during her hiring process.

“The recommendations from the community were not what the seated assembly followed. I think that set up a manager to fail because the community was already not happy with the manager,” Hill said.

When asked why she didn’t follow the majority of public comments urging the assembly to give Schnabel time to correct her performance, she said Schnabel’s firing in May was in keeping with the sentiments of the broader community who did not choose to speak during public comment.

“The public comment that you heard was public comment that came to assembly meetings. The public comment that many (borough leaders) heard was broader and more widespread from people that choose not to come to meetings,” Hill said.

She acknowledged that, as Mayor, she could have helped ensure Schnabel was evaluated by insisting the assembly’s Personnel Committee meet to review evaluation criteria for the position.

Olerud said he thinks the firing was poorly handled.

“There needed to be more evaluation of the manager. There needed to be a corrective action plan before the firing. And if the Personnel Committee wasn’t going to be meeting, then I think if I was the Mayor, I would have called a committee of the whole meeting to have the evaluation,” Olerud said.

The two also gave different answers when asked about the assembly’s decision to defund HEDC in this year’s budget.

Olerud called the decision “extremely short-sighted.”

“In a way it was a savings, but that’s a dedicated fund for tourism and economic development, so money just kind of sits there and it can’t be used for any other part of the borough budget that might have been facing a deficit,” Olerud said, adding that he thinks HEDC has been doing good work gathering economic data and bringing money into the community.

Hill said the decision was ultimately the assembly’s but she thinks it was done in response to public input.

“The assembly was getting a lot of pressure from community members who had a different vision for what the economic development corporation was going to do,” Hill said. “I think the assembly was being fiscally responsible and also paying attention to what the community members were saying to them.”

Both Hill and Olerud said economic development should be a priority for the community and that they think it likely that more borough funding will go toward HEDC in the future.

Election Day is Oct. 6. Early voting began last week. As of Monday morning, 134 people had taken advantage of in-person early voting.


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