Life in a small community

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

Kadashan by Bertrand J. Adams Sr.

In my previous column I wrote about how there was overwhelming support for a popular Yakutat principal, and just as much lack of support for the superintendent. At a School Board meeting on Jan. 20, the board offered the superintendent a two-year contract and a $3,000 raise. Prior to this hiring, the board listened to comments from teachers and members of the public who said in their experiences with the superintendent, she wasn't satisfactorily performing her job.

Foremost at issue is this conflict-of-interest business. Here we have to go to the City and Borough Charter where it forbids any member of a board to vote on any question which he or a member of his household has a direct or substantial indirect financial interest. The charter spells out that the board member in question shall declare a conflict of interest and ask to be excused from voting since he and the superintendent live in the same household.

Of course, it is understandable, these actions of the board would cause an outrage among the public, which prompted interested parties to attend a City and Borough Assembly meeting the following evening.

Another part of this section says that if the City and Borough Assembly identifies a conflict of interest the mayor shall render the contract void. A letter to the City and Borough Assembly from the School Committee of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood pointed out these issues. Subsequently the Assembly did, in fact, declare there was a conflict of interest, and the mayor wrote a letter to the School Board voiding the contract. It remains to be seen what will happen with this issue.

Because this was a colossal issue, there is a division among members of the community and families as well. There is a group, including the School Board member and two other board members who proclaim there is no conflict of interest because their attorneys said so.

What is our country coming to? We have laws don't we? These are embodied in state statutes, City and Borough ordinances, codes and School Board policies. For instance if a School Board policy is unclear, then an ordinance in the municipality should cover the issue, and if that doesn't succeed then we should be able to go to the state statutes to get some relief and so on up the ladder. Yet when the School Board refused to lend an ear to the wishes of the community, an appeal to the City and Borough Assembly provided no relief until a letter from the School Committee was written outlining these issues provided in their own charter. It was then that they conferred with their attorneys to find out if they voided the action on the contract would they be liable, individually or collectively, for a lawsuit?

It is the opinion of many that there is a serious breach of trust because the School Board ignored their own policies, the City and Borough Assembly codes and charters and state statutes. I see where they all seem to comply one with another, but different interpretations from various points of view causes confusion, dissension and irate citizens. Laws, I have always understood, should be based on common sense.

And then there are lawyers. People in leadership are reluctant to do anything about a problem because the system, as we know it today, allows lawsuits for just about anything one can think of, and so we have to rely on legal counsel to clarify, or even interpret, laws we made for ourselves. Can you imagine that? Our elected officials, on our behalf, develop a code of ordinances, it goes through several readings and public comment, and then becomes a regulation; when it emerges as an issue we have to call on attorneys to tell us what we meant so we won't get sued.

Well, since the mayor's letter to the School Board, things are quiet. But there are, no doubt, buzzings from those on both sides about what might be coming down the pipe.

Such is the life in a small community.

Kadashan is the Tlingit name of Bertrand J. Adams Sr., who lives in Yakutat.



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