Sealaska board united against term limits

625 shareholders sign petition to restrict members to two consecutive terms; vote June 27

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

Disgruntled Sealaska Corp. shareholders want term limits for the board of directors that would force out 11 of its 13 sitting members in the next three years.

The proposal is to limit board members to two consecutive terms; after six straight years, a board member would have to sit out the next election.

Juneau resident Mick Beasley had 625 shareholders, mostly in Juneau, sign a petition that put the term-limit proposal to a shareholder vote June 27. Of Sealaska's 20,120 shareholders, 19,218 are eligible to vote.

"Basically, it's like a little club that we belong to but we're not entitled to participate in," he said.

Board members for Sealaska, Southeast's regional Alaska Native corporation, get $24,000 a year and $750 for each day they're in board meetings, which are held about eight times a year.

It's too cushy for Beasley and some other shareholders.

"They've raised their families on our money," Beasley said. "To me, it seems like they're trying to leave a legacy."

Sealaska's corporate management and the board members, some of whom have been in power for decades, are staunchly against term limits.

In 1992, the board - many of whose members are still seated - self-imposed 12-year term limits. Before the 2004 annual meeting, the board abolished the limits. According to Sealaska spokesman Todd Antioquia, the same reasons applied.

Board members said that Sealaska is a complex corporation that takes a long time to understand and that shareholders have the right to vote for whomever they please, though Sealaska's business partners don't want to see rapid change in the board.

"Particularly for folks who are not sure about doing business with Native Americans, the stability factor has always been the make-or-break of a deal," said Jackie Johnson, board member who is the executive director of the National Congress of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Clarence Jackson of Kake helped form Sealaska in the 1970s and has been on the board since. He said the board is transitioning naturally, without the artificial aid of term limits.

"If you start doing risky things, it will ultimately start affecting the money that goes out to shareholders down the road," Jackson said.

Board member Tate London: "Imagine term limits and what we would have lost as a state if Sen. (Ted) Stevens had been limited to two six-year terms," the assistant U.S. attorney from Washington state said.

But Barbara Cadiente-Nelson of Juneau, a candidate for the board, said she supports term limits because every shareholder she talks with favors them. She said term limits are the only way right now to fight an election system in which many shareholders choose to cede their votes to the board's discretion.

About 28 or 29 percent of shareholders' votes typically go this way, according to Sealaska spokesman Todd Antioquia. The system means that for someone to win a seat whom the board doesn't favor, they must beat the other candidates with an extra margin to account for the board's discretionary votes.

"It's anything but democratic," said Cadiente-Nelson, who won the most shareholder votes last year, but lost the seat because of the board's discretionary votes put another candidate over the top.

She argues that stability is indeed important - but in corporate management, not the board.

To pass, the measure needs a majority of all eligible votes, not just the votes that are cast in the election.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

Erroneous information about the history of shareholder petitions in the photo caption has been deleted.




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