Borough Clerk Tara Welinsky leaves her post this week, after one year on the job. Among the clerk’s duties are organizing and overseeing elections, and with local, state and federal elections on the horizon, questions remain about how the clerk’s office will rise to the challenge of organizing a smooth election.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced on Friday that state primary elections, scheduled for August, will be held in person, despite the risks associated with COVID-19. He did not announce a final decision on whether the November general election will be held in person.
Welinsky said that if the state moves toward by-mail elections, it could change local elections, “which would be uncharted territory.”
“It might be helpful to have an extra set of hands,” Welinsky said during a borough assembly work session on Thursday.
Borough Mayor Bill Roberts suggested hiring a temporary professional with election managing experience through the Alaska Municipal League or Municipal Clerks Association to assist with election oversight.
“We have two people who have worked in the clerk’s office for one year, and they have some experience. But I have a feeling they are going to be overpowered,” Roberts said.
According to Welinsky, preparations for the October municipal elections typically begin in July, but with state primaries held in August, preparations will begin earlier this year.
Assembly Member Duane Dvorak spoke in favor of hiring a temporary staff member, but noted that even then, the clerk’s office would be strained as they work toward running a smooth election season.
“I think we are going to run thin here regardless, even if we tap someone from Outside,” Dvorak said. “How long is it going to take them to disengage from their life Outside and get here? It’s not the kind of thing you can do at the drop of a hat.”
The clerk’s office has been stretched thin even before elections season, according to Assembly Member Andy Schroeder.
“The department has long been overworked and some of the things are falling off to the bottom — mostly the records retention and so forth,” he said.
Assembly Member Rebecca Skinner spoke in favor of hiring experienced staffers to help during the election period.
“That’s probably the area that our existing clerks have the least amount of experience,” she said. “Given that we have local elections, state elections, federal elections (and) hanging over all of this we have COVID-19, I think it would be foolish to not bring in additional help.”
Some assembly members said they did not see a need to hire a more experienced staff member.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said Assembly Member Scott Arndt. “When the clerk was out for a while due to medical, the deputy clerk and assistant clerk took care of everything.”
Assembly Member James Turner said, “I think that we are good with the two that we have in the clerk’s office right now. I think they can handle it. They are both intelligent people. They can step up to the task.”
The assembly is scheduled to interview four candidates for the clerk’s position on Wednesday. Two of them are the current clerk’s office staff members — Deputy Clerk Alise Rice and Assistant Clerk Carolina Cruz. Both have worked in the clerk’s office for less than two years.
“If one of them were to get the nod, then we would still have to backfill the office in order to get back to a full complement of staff,” said Assembly Member Duane Dvorak. “That’s going to double the amount of time we have invested thus far.”
Alongside Rice and Cruz, two other candidates who reside off-island will be interviewed for the position — Brandon Macy, who currently serves as the city clerk for the city of Jenk, Oklahoma; and Cody Dorsey, who is currently completing a masters degree in politics in Dublin, Ireland.
The interviews will be conducted remotely, and will be streamed live on the borough website beginning Wednesday at noon.