Walter E. Johns Jr., a former employee of Sealaska and the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, won a seat on the Goldbelt Inc. board of directors Wednesday.
Johns grabbed the third of three available seats on the nine-member board, finishing behind incumbents Andrea Cadiente-Laiti and Kathy Polk in the shareholder vote. Johns edged out incumbent Joe Kahklen, who finished fourth among 11 candidates. The results were announced Wednesday during the Juneau-based urban Native corporation's annual meeting.
Johns, 60, a Christian missionary who has been on the road for much of the past decade, recently returned to Juneau after splitting time between homes in Lincoln, Neb., and Denver, Colo. A former director of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, Johns also has been an administrator in the manpower office of Tlingit-Haida, elections supervisor for Sealaska and owner of a consulting business, Johns and Associates.
Goldbelt board member Randy Wanamaker said Johns' extensive work in Native organizations was key to his victory.
``Shareholders respond to that even more than a straight business background,'' Wanamaker said.
Following his election to a three-year term, Johns issued a press release suggesting he wants a change in Goldbelt's direction.
``We need to pull back and reassess our strategy,'' he wrote. ``There are some hard choices to make. Our company has made some risky investments.''
He softened those comments in an interview this morning: ``I think we're going in the right direction. I'll be supportive of our new CEO.''
Johns said he agrees with President and CEO Gary Droubay that Goldbelt should shy away from major new investments now. ``I think we need to manage what we have,'' he said.
But Johns said eventually he would like to see a diversification of Goldbelt's investments, which are now overwhelmingly in tourism following years in the timber business. He said it would be premature for him to comment further before reviewing confidential corporate information he hasn't been privy to.
Johns said restoring the shareholder dividends are his No. 1 priority, but he did not suggest a deadline for doing so. Goldbelt stopped paying the semi-annual dividends last fall, in the wake of a cruise ship accident that cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue and unexpected expense.
Droubay said shareholder anger about inadequate insurance for that accident has abated. ``Actually, it was a real positive meeting. The question and answer session was pretty uneventful. ... Obviously, they'd love to have a dividend, but the dividend issue didn't really come up.''
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