October 11, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 18
Mayor Future, Mayor Past
Newly elected Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer looks at former mayor Stan Selmer with a smile during Selmer’s last Skagway Borough Assembly Meeting as mayor on October 3.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Mark Schaefer takes over mayor’s chair
Cochran, Morgan on assembly; Belisle re-elected to school board
By KATIE EMMETS
Skagway Borough Assemblyman Mark Schaefer was elected to the mayor’s seat after running unopposed in the October 1 regular election, and Tim Cochran and Spencer Morgan were elected to the Skagway Borough Assembly over Tyler Rose and Christophe “Duppy” Ticarro.
Cochran received 215 votes, Morgan received, 195 votes, Ticarro received 156 votes and Rose received 104 votes.
In the same election, Skagway School Board incumbent Darren Belisle, who ran unopposed, was re-elected.
According to the final certified results, 353 Skagway residents voted in this municipal election, about a 35 percent turn out.
In light of the low turnout, Chair of Election Board Barb Brodersen said there are options for those who aren’t able to go to city hall on Election Day.
“Those who are not physically capable of coming in for election . . . we as a board will take a ballot to them,” Brodersen said.
Newly elected Mayor Mark Schaefer received 248 votes. He said he is happy to be elected and sees his transition from assembly member to mayor as an advantage for the community.
“There’s a lot going on right now,” he said. “The community needs a mayor that has some familiarity about current municipal projects and issues.”
Because he was elected mayor, his assembly seat is vacant and needs to be filled.
Schaefer said he would keep the tradition of the mayors before him and make a suggestion of whom he would like to see in the seat, but ultimately leave the decision up to the assembly.
After Schaefer was voted out of his assembly seat in 2010, then-mayor Tom Cochran suggested Schaefer be the one to fill Colette Hisman’s seat when she resigned, and the assembly did not object.
“I’ve got some people in mind for the seat,” he said, adding that he is still in the process of choosing a recommendation. “This decision is really important. I want to find someone that can be an impartial, open-minded, clear thinker who wouldn’t mind getting involved in community issues.”
Schaefer said he plans to make his recommendation to the assembly at the October 17 meeting.
Schaefer, who is White Pass & Yukon Route railway’s manager of train operations, understands that the assembly is involved in negotiations with his employer, but he said he doesn’t see serving as mayor as a conflict of interest.
“The community is first,” he said. “My job is to work for the community, and I hope the community knows that.”
Schaefer also said other than voting to break a tie during a meeting, he has lost his vote at the table, which would prevent him from voting on any decisions that have to do with White Pass unless there is a tie.
Both Tim Cochran and Spencer Morgan have municipal experience. Cochran previously served a three-year term on the assembly and Morgan was most recently the Planning and Zoning Commission chair.
Morgan said this is an exciting time for him, as he is happy to be serving the public.
“I’m looking forward to taking on a little more of an expanded role,” said Morgan, who was a Planning and Zoning commissioner for more than two years leading up to the election.
Morgan served as commission chair the last four months, and he said he would miss being on a commission that he is truly passionate about.
Morgan said he realizes the new assembly members will be “hitting the ground running,” and will need to learn how to balance his time with new assembly duties.
Cochran was elected to the table after taking a year off to spend more time with his son, who was a senior in high school.
“My immediate reaction when people say congratulations is to say ‘thank you — I think’,” he said with a laugh. “No, I’m really looking forward to it. I like being in the know and being involved.”
Being an assemblyman is a chance for Cochran to give back to the community he grew up in, he said, adding that he thinks everyone should give back to their community when they get the chance.
Cochran said he is looking forward to talking more about Skagway’s waterfront, as he thinks it is one of the municipality’s biggest assets.
“The tourism is driving our economy right now, and we need to develop as much as we can to keep this town alive,” he said.
Cochran said he doesn’t see tourism going away completely, but if it takes a serious hit, Skagway would be in a position where a lot of people would have to move away because of job loss. For this reason, Cochran said he thinks it’s important to focus on creating a strong port for ore shipment.
“I think we can find some middle ground for everyone,” he said of negotiations surrounding the port with both White Pass and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. “We could see a few more people coming to town and create a few more jobs — it would be better for everyone.”
Darren Belisle, who was re-elected to the Skagway School Board with 246 votes, was named board president in an October 8 special meeting.
“I’m looking forward to a great year,” he told board members after the meeting ended.
Belisle said he thinks the school has a great board, and he is looking forward to what it can accomplish in the coming years.
“But I would like to see more people showing up to our meetings, so we can get more community involvement in our school,” he said. “It takes a community.”
Edes loses vote to remain manager
Assembly decision unanimous
By KATIE EMMETS
Skagway Borough Manager George Edes was fired after a motion to retain him failed unanimously by Skagway Borough Assembly members.
The decision came after an October 3 executive session in which the assembly evaluated Edes’ performance as manager.
The assembly first evaluated Edes in July, after he held the position for only three months. Because the assembly felt the need for a follow-up evaluation, a tentative September 30 date was scheduled, and the evaluation was later placed on the October 3 agenda under executive session.
According to Skagway Borough Clerk Emily Deach, the manager can be evaluated at any time during his or her contract. Edes’ contract stated that the assembly could meet with him at least annually to discuss concerns.
“Evaluations are done as needed, though generally this happens annually,” Deach said.
Newly elected Mayor Mark Schaefer said he could not discuss personnel issues, nor can he reveal what was discussed about Edes because the conversations took place in executive session.
Edes’ signed a two-year contract with the municipality, which began April 1 and would have ended March 31, 2015.
He was contracted for a yearly salary of $110,000. He has received $55,000 for his six months of work and will receive a six months’ severance package of $55,000, which totals his contracted wages.
The assembly held a special meeting on Wednesday to appoint Deach as the interim manager while a search is conducted for a permanent borough manager.
During the meeting, Schaefer appointed assemblymen Gary Hanson, Steven Burnham Jr. and Tim Cochran to a hiring process evaluation committee.
The assembly discussed hiring a firm to aid in the search.
Schaefer, who wants to start the search as soon as possible, said it would probably take a couple months for the assembly to hire someone.
The committee needs to advertise the job opening, conduct initial phone interviews, narrow the candidates, hold in-person interviews and select a manager, Schaefer said.
The search that resulted in the hiring of Edes lasted about four months. The search began in December, but the first person offered the job declined the position in January, which started the search over again.
Schaefer also mentioned that evaluation committee would be reviewing the job description and the areas it will be posting the job.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Superintendent Mike Tranel prepares to lock the doors to the building after a federal government shutdown forced the park to close Oct. 1. Katie Emmets
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park closed; federal government shutdown affects local operations
By KATIE EMMETS
Amidst the United States federal government shut down, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has found itself closed for business along with more than 400 other national parks and museums including Yosemite National Park in California and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Every year, the House and Senate must agree on 12 appropriations bills to fund federal agencies, like the National Park Service, and set spending priorities. Because Congress hardly ever passes the entire federal budget by the scheduled deadline of Sept. 30, it has depended on short-term stopgap budgets to keep the government running. The last stopgap passed on March 28, and ended on September 30. Congress could have passed another stopgap to keep the government up and running, but it did not.
The next day, KGRNHP Superintendent Mike Tranel, along with other park employees, worked for a few hours to prepare the park for a shutdown.
While at work on October 1, employees reported their working hours for the last pay period; put “out of the office” notices on buildings, phone answering machines and automatic e-mail responses; and secured the work place by locking all doors and turning off lights and other electronic office equipment.
Most of the 30 permanent park employees went on furlough that afternoon.
Furlough, derived from the Dutch word verlof meaning permission, is a leave of absence from a duty granted especially to a soldier or government employee. During furlough, employees are temporarily terminated and receive no wages.
Tranel said park employees who are forced to go on furlough will recieve retroactive pay, and mentioned that government employees received retroactive pay after the last government shut down in 1996.
Despite the government’s partial closing, there are still some National Park Service employees working in Skagway. At KGRNHP, one maintenance worker and one law enforcement ranger will work part-time during the shutdown to protect life and property within the park.
The government looks upon these positions as expected positions. Because all federal entities and branches are considered essential, the government has chosen to only allow branches that are expected, like the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to continue operations.
Tranel said the government shutdown has caused the closing of the park’s Dyea campground and historic town site.
“The town site is technically closed, but if people are out there walking or hiking around, it’s OK,” he said. “But the park can’t provide services like restrooms.”
Tranel said the shutdown does not affect businesses that rent spaces in park owned buildings.
“Most businesses that use lease buildings are closed for the season, but any tenants still using historic leased buildings can continue to do so,” he said.
The shutdown has also halted the planning stages of a remodeled visitor center with several new exhibits. The construction on the visitors center needs to be completed before the summer season, which means planning early on is important, Tranel said.
Tranel said KGRNHP is fortunate the shutdown happened after Skagway’s cruise ship season, as the park has about 30 more employees and receives its highest tourist volume during summer months.
“Our bottom line is that we just want to come back to work, do a good job and earn our pay,” Tranel said of himself and other furloughed KGRNHP employees.
This is the second time Tranel has had to stop working because of a government shutdown.
During the last one in 1996, Tranel was working at Denali National Park, where he said all park employees were laid off for the entire three weeks of the shutdown.
As of now, he said, furloughed KGRNHP employees are waking up every morning and checking the Internet to see if they are able to go back to work.
Tranel said he and his wife were planning a family trip to the East Coast for October, but it will now have to wait because he will need to go back to work as soon as the government reopens.
Like all other federal employees, Tranel has no inkling of when the government will reopen, but in the mean time, he said he would be spending some quality time with his family.
LARGE-IN-CHARGE – Boyd Worley at work in his port director’s office at the Skagway Port of Entry. Stephanie Worley
Outdoor arts facility bid goes to Hunz & Hunz
The Skagway Borough Assembly voted unanimously to award construction of the outdoor arts facility to Hunz & Hunz Enterprises at the price of $666,620.
The construction will include the structure, and alternates 1-4 —a sound booth, landscaping, metal roofing, a concrete pad and concrete walkways.
Hunz and Hunz Enterprises bid the lowest at $544,160 for the base construction. Other local construction businesses Hamilton Construction Inc. and NorthPoint Construction Inc. also bid on the project. Hamilton Construction Inc. submitted a base bid of $545,000 and NorthPoint Construction Inc. submitted a base bid of $573,230.
During discussion, assembly members weighed options of doing the base construction plus alternatives 1-4 or completing the entire project and adding an audio system and theater lighting.
If the assembly chooses to fund the entire project construction, the price would jump from $666,620 to more than $1 million.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson said he thinks the project should include only the base construction with alternatives 1-4, and suggested a “plug and play” method with portable lights and movable soundboard and amps.
Hanson, who plays in the local band 4/50 and has experience with sound system set ups, said the method he described is consistent with the municipality’s wishes for the outdoor arts facility.
Assemblyman Dan Henry said he thinks the assembly should choose to fund the project in its entirety.
“I didn’t envision a garage band stage with rolling amps and lights,” he said, adding that he would rather do everything at one time and not have to return later to finish the project.
The assembly agreed to discuss logistics later, and awarded the bid to Hunz and Hunz Enterprises with a unanimous vote.
Case-by-case telephone attendance for meetings
The Assembly voted 5-1 to pass the first reading of an ordinance that would allow attending assembly meetings telephonically on a case-by-case basis.
Municipal code reflects a four-meeting maximum for teleconferencing; however, there have been unforeseen emergencies recently that have forced the assembly to amend the code to make exceptions on a temporary basis.
The amended language states that if the mayor or an assembly member has participated telephonically in four meetings and requests to participate telephonically in one or more additional meetings, a majority of the quorum of the assembly present may vote to grant further telephone participation.
If the ordinance passes its second reading, participating in a meeting by teleconference while out of town on municipal business does not count toward the four-meeting maximum.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he didn’t agree with the part of the ordinance that says all assembly members may participate in emergency assembly meetings by teleconference.
“I’m a little cautious because we’ve already seen that the definition of an emergency meeting can get a little bent to include certain things,” he said. “I’m not really comfortable supporting this.”
Reichert made a motion to amend the ordinance that would require three assembly members to be present during an emergency meeting. The motion failed after a 3-3 vote, with Mayor Stan Selmer breaking the tie by voting no.
The first reading of the ordinance passed with a 5-1 vote, with Reichert voting no.
WALL OF FAME – Mayor Stan Selmer dedicated the City Hall Wall of Fame on Oct. 4 and honored former residents William J. Mulvihill, Morgan W. Reed and Casey McBride for their dedication to the Skagway community. LEFT: Holding a picture of William J. Mulvihill, Skagway Permitting official David Van Horn laughs at Carl Mulvihill after Carl said the only resemblence he and his grandfather William share are their bald heads. RIGHT: Van Horn hangs a photo of Morgan W. Reed in the center of the wall of fame. Katie Emmets
Board restructures after municipal election
After School Board Vice President Darren Belisle ran unopposed and was reelected, the board restructured its roles in an Oct. 8 special meeting.
Belisle will take Stuart Brown’s seat as president, and board member John Hischer will become vice president. Board members Cara Cosgrove and Andy Miller will stay treasurer and clerk respectively. Brown, who will be travelling extensively throughout the year, was moved to member.
Belisle and Miller will sit on the Capital Improvement Committee, Hischer and Cosgrove will sit on the Curriculum Committee, Borwn and Hischer will sit on the Legislative Committee, Cosgrove and Miller will sit on the Negotiations Committee, Belisle and Miller will sit on the Vocational Education Committee, and the entire board will be on the Child/Youth Advocate Committee. – KE
Board looks at housing options for superintendent, staff
The Skagway School Board is considering signing a three-year lease on a house to provide housing for its staff.
Available housing for Skagway School staff became an issue this summer when new hires brought two large families to the Skagway community without a place to live.
School Superintendent Josh Coughran’s family was one of them.
“We have always faced challenges when it relates to housing in Skagway,” says Coughran.
A solution to the housing issue was first brought up at the Sept. 10 school board meeting when members discussed purchasing a house that would be used for the school superintendent and his or her family.
Board members felt uncomfortable with the large purchase of a house, and shared fears about becoming landlords.
After shooting down the option to buy, board members asked Coughran to gather more information on the matter so they could reassess it at its Oct. 1 meeting. During his research, Coughran discovered that several Alaska school districts provide housing for teachers and staff.
Coughran then took his ideas to the board’s Capital Improvement Committee to discuss a long-term lease on district housing.
“The board was a little bit split on the topic,” says Coughran about the discussion to rent a house at the Oct. 1 meeting.
While a couple were in favor of building a house, Coughran said, others preferred the idea of a lease. Either way, Coughran said, the board agrees that it should be a three-year minimum commitment.
“I’m totally against purchasing because that ties us up for 30 years or longer,” said then School Board Vice President Darren Belisle.
If the board goes through with renting a house, Coughran’s five-person family would be living in it.
At the meeting, Coughran said he found a house that would be available Nov. 1, however, the rent is almost $300 over the superintendent’s housing stipend. Coughran said he would consider paying the additional $300 per month toward the rent if it comes to it. – ZW