Sealaska board election short on independents

A Sealaska corporate logo adorns the roof of the Southeast Alaska Native corportation's headquarters in Juneau on May 2, 2018.

A Sealaska corporate logo adorns the roof of the Southeast Alaska Native corportation’s headquarters in Juneau on May 2, 2018. The logo has representations of the Eagle and Raven moieties of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Only three independent candidates are running for the Sealaska Board of Directors this spring. That’s a smaller number than most recent years. Why?

Sealaska is holding community meetings this month in nine Southeast Alaska and Washington state cities.

They’re an opportunity for some of its more than 22,000 shareholders to hear about the regional Native corporation’s business progress. The meetings are also a chance to hear from incumbents and challengers running for Sealaska’s board of directors.

Five of the board’s 13 incumbents are on this year’s ballot. They’re endorsed by the board and run as a slate. Shareholders can cast ballots for them as a group through a process called discretionary voting.

Only three independent candidates are challenging the incumbents. That’s a third to a half of the number in some elections this decade. Shareholders cast ballots for each individual candidate through what’s called directed voting.

Ray Austin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has run as an independent in several elections. But not this time around.

“What’s been happening in the past years is too many people run, sometimes almost 10. And what happens then is that they dilute the voting power of the shareholders that vote directed,” he said.

Two of the three independent candidates have run before. They are Nicole Hallingstad of Arlington, Virginia, Sealaska’s former corporate secretary; Karen Taug of Juneau, Bartlett Regional Hospital Controller; and Edwell John Jr. of Juneau, a state business analyst.

The incumbents include board president Joe Nelson of Juneau and his predecessor, Albert Kookesh of Angoon. Also running are former lawmaker Bill Thomas of Haines, fisheries business owner Barbara Cadiente-Nelson of Juneau and attorney Tate London of Bothell, Washington.

Nelson, in a prepared statement, said the thin independent slate could be the result of several factors.

One is that two strong independents won board elections over the past three years. Another is that several other incumbents first ran as independents.

Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott said it also could be due to the corporation’s business success. A recently released annual report showed last year’s earnings triple the amount of the previous year.

“The excitement we have around the financial performance, I would guess, should drive a lot of decision-making for our shareholders in this process. We want to be very clear and transparent that 2017 is a milestone year and there’s more to come,” he said.

In past years, some critics have suggested a coordinated campaign to limit the number of independents.

That happened in 2014, when a group called 4 Shareholders for Sealaska ran its own slate. It succeeded in putting one person on the board.

Candidate Hallingstad said social media postings show there’s still interest in coordination.

“I’ve seen a lot of conversation about shareholders wanting to unite behind one or two qualified candidates to get an independent elected,” she said.

But she, Austin and another former candidate say there’s no coordinated effort this year.

Austin said that’s in part because campaigns begin before the official list of candidates is made public.

“I think that’s always been a disadvantage for any shareholder because you cannot plan a strategy if you don’t know who’s running as an independent,” he said.

Shareholders have been voting online and by mail since early this month.

Election results will be announced at Sealaska’s annual meeting June 23 at the Wrangell High School Gymnasium.

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