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Empire Editorial: Steer Sealaska back on course

Posted: June 24, 2014 - 11:05pm

Sealaska shareholders hold the Native Corporation’s future in their hands. What that future entails will depend on how proxies are cast. That means it’s up to the shareholders, each and every one, to make their voice heard this week, to choose who will be at the helm of a company facing a concerning future.

The corporation has lost $142 million from business operations since 2009, including $73 million in 2013. Profits shared from other Native corporations totaling more than $100 million over the same period, paired with the company’s investments, have masked Sealaska’s financial woes, the Empire reported on in May.

If all incumbents are reelected, we are afraid shareholders can expect more of the same.

Typically, the Empire would not weigh in on this topic. Sealaska is a private company to all but its 22,000 shareholders. But those shareholders are also our readers, neighbors, friends and family. We’d like to see Sealaska -- a company known for its work in preserving the language and heritage of Alaska Native cultures -- return to profitability and ensure its existence for future generations of all Alaskans. 

At the current pace, Sealaska will be bankrupt by 2020. 

We believe fresh faces and ideas are needed. We worry the current group of board members, the same ones who saw losses each of the last four years, are in too deep. 

Change is not always easy. But change is needed now. 

Shareholders should raise up their voices and, with their votes, usher in a time of change by selecting new members to the Sealaska board of directors. While casting that vote, also choose to move on from discretionary voting. Because, for incumbents without Sealaska’s backing, it’s an uphill battle to get elected. The use of discretionary votes by the board’s proxy also limits the chances of independent candidates. Last year, all four incumbents won re-election bids, receiving between 600,487 and 601,423 votes. The next highest vote-getter, an independent candidate, received 432,960 votes. Discretionary voting ensured the board could give its candidates enough votes to win, and the board knew how many votes each of its candidates needed to get another term.

Discretionary voting may be considered a common practice among many Native Corporations, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best method. It also creates an environment where independent candidates have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be on their own proxy just to feel like they stand a chance. Not many shareholders have that kind of money to gamble on a board seat, but don’t they deserve the same opportunity as those in legacy board seats? It’s hard to compete when the corporation pays thousands to fly its candidates around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to gain support.

 “This is part of the regular course of business for Sealaska,” a corporate spokesperson told the Empire regarding campaign spending. 

That statement highlights the problem.

Sealaska pays tens of thousands of dollars annually to each board member simply for being on the board, plus thousands more on travel, phoning in to meetings and reelection campaigns. The result: $142 million in operational loses over five years. This money belongs to shareholders, but they aren’t getting what they’re paying for. There’s been no job creation in Alaska (only 60 of Sealaska’s 200 direct jobs are in the state), and seemingly no clear vision for how the corporation will return to profitability. 

We are worried that losing tens of millions has become the “regular course of business for Sealaska.” 

We encourage shareholders to vote directly for the candidates of their choosing, whether that be an incumbent, independent or a member of the Sealaska 4 proxy. Then, vote to do away with discretionary voting altogether. 

The upcoming election this week is a chance for shareholders to steer their corporation back on course. 

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton,; Director of Audience Abby Lowell,; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland,; and Asst. Editor James Brooks,

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Haily George
Haily George 06/25/14 - 08:29 am
return to cherished ideals

"return to profitably and ensure "its" (corporation) existence for future generations of all Alaskans".

How about this instead. Please return to your cherished ideals which will ensure the existence of our natural resources so that all life forms and their future generations have a chance to survive.

Don B
Don B 06/25/14 - 09:56 am

I'd like to see new faces in SEALASKA, but that most likely wont happen until the discretionary voting is removed. There are four independents currently looking for votes.......Those four independents have the same goals. End discretionary voting!

With four independents running at the same time....all those votes will be divided between them and lower the count against current board members that are also running. I'd like to see only ONE independent campaigning to take advantage of voting numbers until we can get those old crooks out of SEALASKA and replaced with new faces.

End the discretionary vote!

Myrna Gardner
Myrna Gardner 06/25/14 - 10:56 am
Independent Candidates equal change

This article was a surprise to me. As a shareholder, I was surprised the Juneau Empire made any comments especially since it is a privately held corporation. As an independent candidate on Sealaska proxy, I have spent thousands of dollars of my own money seeking election to the board. I traveled to communities, asked for votes and solicited proxies. Sealaska reported at a shareholder informational meeting that 25% of all voters vote discretionary, thereby giving their power to the proxy holders to vote as they see fit, i.e. the incumbents.

Cultural preservation and support of our native language are two worthy endeavors. Philanthropy is a gift from the wealthy, not those losing millions and millions. Sealaska Board and Management's job is to make the corporation financially strong. Profitable from Operations. It is organized under banking and securities and has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders.

I want change, I want to see our corporation be profitable again. I am tired of our company losing money, too.

Joe  Davis
Joe Davis 06/27/14 - 06:29 am
Discretionary is a

Discretionary is a choice

Aside from the fact that this piece is nothing more than Yellow Journalism, it is riddled with false and misleading information. It's sad the leadership of the Empire has no integrity.
These attacks by the Empire are so irregular and unprecedented. What really confuses me is why they choose Sealaska to weigh in on. Why aren't they openly attacking policy makers who have been in the legislature for decades? Are they going to publish letters about the tax referendum? Are they going to discuss the governors race and who we should vote for? Are they going to publish a letter telling us who are congressional delegates should be? Are they going to go after Congressman Don Young for his ethics violations? Are they going to write articles endorsing which legislators to elect and what bills constituents should call their legislators to support\not support? Of course those are all rhetorical questions to beg the question: why is the Juneau Empire only making the effort to publicly criticize the regional Native company, but ignore public policy issues that impact every Alaskan resident? Seems pretty strange to me.

Let's just for a moment pretend the editorial had a shred of integrity. The Empire has no place to be commenting on the situation of a privately owned company, no more than Sealaska should use it's website newsletter to write about the sloppy reporting and terrible misuse of public media to circulate biased disinformation.

Another thing to consider is the piece isn't even offering anything new--it's copy paste presto manifesto from a small fringe group of shareholders that are in no way representative of the more than 21,000 shareholders of Sealaska. The dissident shareholder Facebook page has roughly 1,700 Shareholders, of which about 20-30 post personal attacks, play the blame and shame game while offering no solutions or rational logic in their criticisms and character assassination efforts. Using bitter, toxic rants with alleged, third hand stories are not the ingredients to changing Sealaska for the better.

Change needs to happen no doubt about it. Change is happening with a new COO and soon to be new CEO who has a proven track record of making profits for Sealaska.

I'm sorry but the Empire embarrasses themselves with their weak financial analysis and criticisms of Sealaska's strategic plan.

The reality is the Empire is desperate. They are losing money because Print media is dying- everyone knows this. Their core reporting group are inexperienced people who have no ability to author fair, balanced, unbiased media. Recently one of their few remaining reporters who actually has talent with reporting left the Empire because the editor wanted to spin her to cross the line of ethical journalism and be biased. She pushed back and now she's gone.

They need to sell newspapers and are willing to lie to do it. End of story.

Joe Davis 6/27/14 12:19 AM

Joe  Davis
Joe Davis 06/27/14 - 06:35 am
Incidentally since the Empire

Incidentally since the Empire is so concerned about the financial prosperity and job growth of Sealaska and the region, I suppose they support Sealaska's lands bill? I mean they publicly take sides on policies now so it's all good.

Hey Empire- your publisher and Editor and Mathew Woolbright gonna write articles to take a public stance on this critical policy to the future well being of Sealaska's financial stability? It will really put your concerns for the more than 22,000 shareholders to rest. Woolbright- you have your own editorial column now- please write articles about the need for congress to pass Sealaska's lands bill. I can't wait to see the publisher and editor endorse Sealaska's lands bill.

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