Public safety commission struggles to meet, looking to fill vacancies
November 11, 2021
Due to commissioner absences and a string of communication hiccups with borough staff, the public safety commission hasn’t met since May, possibly in violation of Haines Borough code.
HBC 2.50.020c holds that “commission meetings shall be held at least once every calendar quarter,” but the commission didn’t meet in the third quarter of 2021—July through September.
The last four scheduled commission meetings have been canceled at the last minute due to lack of a quorum. At the last scheduled meeting, on Nov. 3, commissioner Dana Hallett and a community member showed up to the borough assembly chambers but “nobody was there to open the door or turn the lights on,” Hallett said. (The meeting was only on Zoom, even though it had been publicized to be both on Zoom and in chambers, and it was posted to be held at two different times.)
“We had a communications snafu internally that resulted in the Commission’s November 3 meeting being canceled due to a lack of quorum,” borough manager Annette Kreitzer wrote in an email to the CVN.
At meetings prior to Nov. 3, borough staff and two commissioners gathered on time, ready to meet, only to have to cancel without a quorum. There are four commissioners, meaning at least three need to attend for there to be a quorum. One seat has been vacant since November 2020.
Commissioner Dana Hallett said the commission has been eager to fill that seat but has struggled to find someone. “We’ve been looking and looking and looking,” He said. “I’ve probably approached a dozen people (about joining the commission).”
When asked if code had been violated due to the lack of meetings from July through September, Kreitzer noted that the word “shall” — as in commission meetings “shall” be held — doesn’t legally mean “must.”
The U.S. Supreme Court indeed has ruled that “shall” can be interpreted more flexibly than “must.” But borough code 1.04.990 says “The words ‘must’ and ‘shall’ are each mandatory.”
Kreitzer wrote to the CVN that “must” implies “penalty for inaction, and there is no penalty for the entire commission.”
“The onus is on individual involvement and whether members have unexcused absences,” Kreitzer said.
Code holds that if a commission member has three consecutive unexcused absences, his or her seat “shall be deemed vacated.” Given the lack of meetings and series of scheduling changes, it’s unclear if any commissioners have missed three consecutive meetings.
Furthermore, the borough is hosting a fair on Nov. 30 to advertise openings on all boards and committees to the public.
“Because we are so close to the date of the Fair, I believe any action regarding replacement of members who have not been able to attend meetings will wait until after the Fair,” Kreitzer wrote to the CVN.
“I think everybody plays a part. I play a part because I put the agenda draft together for the chair. I contact members. Everyone needs to play a part,” Hallett said.
“We need to have training across the board – with all committees, commissions and boards. We need to standardize it,” Hallett said. Commissioner Judy Erekson said better communication and filling vacant seats would help get the commission back on track. (Commissioners Kevin Woods and Kelly Williamson, whose term expires this month, could not be reached for comment.)
The next public safety commission is scheduled for Dec. 15.
The agenda since May has been to discuss plans for the new public safety building, criteria for areawide emergency response and to receive updates from the fire and police departments.