A group of Haines residents is trying to recall half of the Borough assembly, including the two newest members.
Resident Don Turner Jr., along with nine other people, signed three requests for recall petitions. They accuse Assembly members Tom Morphet, Heather Lende and Tresham Gregg of misconduct in office.
Turner publically threatened a recall petition for Morphet after the assembly voted 4-2 to fire former manager Bill Seward in December.
“I blame you Tom, for that – you don’t want to try,” Turner said at the time. “You’re one way about stuff. I am, tomorrow, going to start trying to terminate your job. I’m going to get a recall petition out and see if I can’t terminate your job. Because I think you are not doing the public a service.”
The manager termination decision is not cited in the recall requests. Rather, Turner, who is the main sponsor on the applications, lists a few other incidents he says amount to misconduct in office.
Turner points to an email from Police Chief Heath Scott that he said references Assembly members Lende and Morphet requesting the police department provide the blotter. Turner alleged that this is coercion of a subordinate and an attempt by Morphet and Lende to affect their personal or financial interests. Morphet is the publisher of the Chilkat Valley News and Lende writes obituaries for the paper. Turner implies they stand to benefit from the publication of the blotter because of their affiliation with the paper and their own personal blogs.
Turner went on to say Morphet and Lende behaved improperly when they asked manager Seward to delay opening construction bids for the small boat harbor project. They were assembly members elect at the time.
Turner said Morphet, Lende, Gregg and Assembly member Ron Jackson communicated by email about a potential extension on the harbor project’s breakwater. He said this is a violation of the Alaska Open Meetings Act.
On the recall application for Gregg, Turner said the assembly member misused his official position when he said at a December 2015 meeting that the assembly can choose or not choose to follow a section of code.
KHNS filed a public records request for the emails listed in the applications.
Turner declined to comment for this story.
KHNS reached Morphet shortly after he found out about the recall applications. He called out Turner and two of the other people who signed the requests.
“I think these are so far-fetched as to be laughable,” Morphet said. “I think if Don Turner and Terry Pardee and Ryan Cook would like to serve on the assembly, they should run for a seat like anyone else. I would ask that the public stop wasting taxpayers’ money by bringing frivolous claims such as these.”
Turner previously filed a complaint accusing assembly members of violating resident Diana Lapham’s constitutional rights by denying her appointment to an advisory committee. Ultimately, nothing came of it. Morphet said that complaint and these recall applications amount to “an ongoing attempt to silence independent voices on the assembly.”
“I think we all have much more important business to do than this little school yard game,” Morphet said.
Morphet and Lende were elected to the assembly about six months ago. They unseated incumbent Diana Lapham and overcame three other challengers. One of the unsuccessful candidates was Ryan Cook, who is the secondary sponsor on the recall petition applications.
Gregg was elected to the assembly in 2015, along with Margaret Friedenauer. Friedenauer, Jackson and Mike Case are not targeted in the recall petition requests.
The applications are just the first step in the recall process and do not automatically trigger a public vote.
Borough Clerk Julie Cozzi, with help from the borough attorney, will determine whether the applications meet requirements outlined in Alaska Statute. Cozzi says that will take up to two weeks. If the applications are deemed sufficient, Cozzi will draw up official recall petitions. The ten original sponsors will have to gather 258 valid signatures on each petition. Then, the recall question would go to a special election ballot.