Embattled tour operator running for city council

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2000

HAINES (AP) -- A Haines tour operator charged with violating the city's law against soliciting business on public property is running for the city council, a panel that's considering whether to revoke one of his business permits.

Haines Police have charged Dave Button, the owner of Eco-Orca Tours, with soliciting on public property and parking violations after complaints from other tour operators and local residents.

They accuse Button of offering free rides to tourists to view eagles and bears, then charging for the ride back; stealing clients from other tour operators under false pretenses and stranding tourists in Chilkoot Lake State Park -- an area know for its large bear population.

''We believe those are absolute lies,'' said Philip Pallenberg, Button's lawyer.

Button, who went into business in Haines in 1999, told KHNS radio that everything was going smoothly until he ''ran into a couple of problems this summer, so I thought, well, I'll run for city council.''

His court date had been set for Oct. 4, the day after Tuesday's election and the same day the city council was scheduled to decide whether to revoke Eco-Orca Tours' permit to park buses and vans near the downtown cruise ship dock, where soliciting business is allowed.

Pallenberg said both the court date and the hearing have been delayed until a judge can decide whether the anti-soliciting ordinance is unconstitutional.

''My interpretation is that it prohibits anyone from talking about business on the streets of Haines,'' Pallenberg said. ''We think that violates people's free-speech rights.''

Button said he began his first tour business in Ketchikan in 1989 with the intention of become the ''McDonald's of the tour business.'' He moved to Sitka a few years later and then to Haines last year.

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