Alaska News

Haines debate over minor-offenses ordinance includes yelling, insults and tears

HAINES -- There were tears, threats, applause, yelling and a couple of Nazi references, but despite it all, a controversial minor-offenses ordinance passed 4-3 Tuesday evening at the Haines Borough Assembly meeting.

"This smacks of Hitler and Nazi-ism to me. I mean some borough employee having the right to just blindly give a ticket? That's just crazy."

"I'm a Vietnam veteran and I fought a war about communism and stuff like this a long time ago and we don't need this kind of a dictatorship."

"If you violate your oath of office, I'm afraid you will be prosecuted for it."

"We need more information and we also need to build trust in our community."

"Please reconsider your vote and give the citizens of Haines due respect."

The ordinance takes violations that already exist in borough code and, according to borough staff, streamlines the enforcement process. It also assigns fines to more than 200 violations.

The long list of rules has caused such an uproar because it is seen as excessive and overreaching. People are worried that they'll be cited for driving around with their family dog in the bed of their pickup or jaywalking on Main Street.

It passed with an amendment that Borough Manager Dave Sosa develop a policy regarding who can issue citations, what codes can be enforced and what training is required to do so. If the policy is approved by the Assembly, the minor offenses ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1.

The ordinance was also amended to reflect a few recommendations from the Government Affairs and Services Committee.

Nearly 20 residents at the meeting spoke out against the ordinance, citing infringement on their constitutional rights and an unlawful process leading up to Tuesday's vote.

Early on in the four-hour meeting, Deputy Mayor Diana Lapham threatened to eject members of the audience for speaking out, applauding and interrupting the proceedings. Rhys Williams suggested Lapham focus her energy on the matter at hand.

"And if the people want to applaud someone's statement, so be it, let it go. It's OK, they can applaud and we can relax," Williams said.

"One more outburst and I will have you removed from this room. Thank you," Lapham responded when applause erupted.

When it finally came time to vote on the ordinance, the count went like this: Mike Case, Lapham and Joanne Waterman voted in favor of passing it. Dave Berry Jr. and Ron Jackson voted against it. But when Borough Clerk Julie Cozzi asked George Campbell for his vote, he said:

"I refuse to vote. We do not have the information from all the committees. We know that there is information out there. It violates the Open Meetings Act. I refuse to vote," Campbell told Cozzi.

"You have no authority to do so, sir. Code does not allow abstention," Cozzi replied.

"I refuse to vote. Arrest me, call me in contempt, whatever."

The unorthodox move held up the process.

After some discussion and research, Campbell's nonvote counted in the negative, causing a 3-3 tie.

It was then the emotional session caused Waterman to tear up, saying the vote "just doesn't feel right."

It was up to Mayor Jan Hill to break the tie. She was on speakerphone on her way to Miami for borough business. Hill voted in favor of passing the ordinance.

Some in the audience said they felt the relationship between the Assembly and its constituents had been damaged by the ordinance. Kyle Ponsford spoke twice at Tuesday's meeting. He closed with this after the ordinance passed:

"It makes no sense. You want to talk about losing the faith of the people? We don't trust you because you're insane. And I use that word 'insane' on purpose because your mind isn't working right."

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