Legislative rejection has long-term effects

Fish board will enter next regulatory cycle with an unconfirmed member
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, outgoing Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster and Karl Johnstone, Board of Fisheries chairman, talk during a break March 21, 2013 at a Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

In the days leading up to the confirmation vote for three seats on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, legislators were barraged with information, most of it about Vince Webster, an appointee up for his third three-year term.

 

Despite support from the majority of legislators who spoke during the joint session of the House and Senate, which met to discuss the 88 board members and representatives appointed by the Gov. Sean Parnell, Webster ultimately lost his seat on the board with a 29-30 vote.

Webster will serve the remainder of his term, which ends in June, at which point the governor will have 30 days to appoint a new member who will remained unconfirmed well into the next Board of Fisheries cycle.

Sharon Leighow, press secretary for the governor, said she was not aware of anyone applying or being recommended for the seat.

She said the governor liked the “regional balance” on the current board and encouraged candidates from the Bristol Bay region to apply.

Two local organizations, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and Fair Fishing 907 — a Facebook group and mailing list under the umbrella of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association — urged their members to take action on Webster’s appointment.

Kenai River Sportfishing Executive Director Ricky Gease said Webster had a pattern of making last minute substitutions to regulatory language in proposals considered by the Board of Fisheries that removed public input from the process.

In an April 4 email to supporters Gease wrote that Webster “led the charge” to lower the escapement goal on the Kenai River for king salmon and was largely responsible for the failure of an Upper Cook Inlet Task force to come up with a way for users to fish in times of low king salmon abundance.

Webster, who did not respond to an interview request, wrote an email Monday defending his actions on the Board of Fish to Fair Fishing 907 members.

He wrote that he had nothing to do with setting the new Alaska Department of Fish and Game generated escapement goal — a goal that was put into regulation by a unanimous 7-0 vote by the Board of Fisheries.

Webster also wrote that he was not responsible for “wasting time” during the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force meeting, in response to an accusation from Gease that a canceled December meeting could have been used to address progress on escapement goals.

“Tom Kluberton had the Task Force polled to cancel the Dec. meeting because (Fish and Game) said they would not have any new information out until January. I agreed,” Webster wrote.

Kluberton, board member from Talkeetna, was reappointed to the board and was confirmed unanimously by the Legislature.

After the confirmation hearing, Parnell released a statement saying he was it was “disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state.”

Several legislators testified about the volume of last minute correspondence they received on Webster.

“There’s been an avalanche of information and allegations made against Mr. Webster in the last three or four days,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka during his testimony. “Not prior to the last three or four days, just in the last three or four days and in an environment where there’s an absence of information, where we don’t understand to great detail the board that we’re about to confirm members too, confusion reigns and I would certainly said that’s been the case — from my impression — in the capital.”

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, was the first to speak against Webster’s re-confirmation. He said while he did not object to a member of the Board of Fish lightly, he had voted against Webster three years ago and had concerns that had been amplified since then.

“If Mr. Webster was a legislator I would tolerate him using and bending the rules to every extent because he would have an obligation to his legislative constituency,” Stoltze said. “But when he does things — nothing that is illegal or not following a legal process — but … if you look at his record on trying to influence groups … he does things legally, but not always right.”

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, spoke in favor of Webster’s confirmation before the vote.

“You know, it’s a difficult job and what I’m doing is appealing to a sense of fairness to all of you,” Micciche said during his testimony. “If those of us, in these two bodies, were replaced each time a group disagreed with a particular decision made by any of us there’d be 60 new seats every four years.”

 

Rashah McChesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.

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