Sealaska is fighting back against an effort to impose term limits on its board of directors. Backers of the measure say the regional Native corporation’s campaign methods provide another argument for limiting terms.
The 13 members of Sealaska’s Board of Directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms. A measure critics placed on the corporation’s proxy ballot would limit them to four consecutive terms – or a total of 12 years.
“The board would lose eight members if this term limits resolution were adopted. And (it) would turn the entire board over completely in the next 10 years,” says Nicole Hallingstad, corporate secretary and a vice president of Sealaska.
“This is really a significant loss of institutional experience and knowledge. That actually damages the credibility and stability of the corporation,” she says.
Sealaska is actively campaigning against the term limits measure. It’s bought newspaper advertisements, posted information on Facebook, discussed it at community meetings, and used other means to urge shareholders to vote no.
Hallingstad says it’s just not needed.
“Turnover on the board actually does occur naturally. We have had six new board members in the past 10 years, which is a 46 percent turnover rate,” she says.
Critics say that’s not the best way to describe the situation.
“Eight of the directors on the Sealaska board are all appointees. They’ve never initially been elected,” says shareholder Mick Beasley, who authored the term-limits measure.
He says only one board member in recent years won without first being appointed, so they could run as an incumbent.
“It’s really frustrating, but the system, it creates a class system of shareholders. Those shareholders are not ever going to be represented,” Beasley says.
Sealaska says they’re represented well. Corporate secretary Hallingstad says shareholders make their own decisions to vote for anyone or anything they please.
“The freedom of choice already exists in the election process. Shareholders can vote directed or they can vote discretionary, but under either circumstance our shareholders have the direct choice of whom they elect,” she says.
Directed votes go to whatever candidate a shareholder chooses. Discretionary votes turn that choice over to the board.
Sealaska does not release figures showing how much it’s spending to oppose term limits. Part of that effort overlaps with advertisements supporting the board slate of five incumbents.
Hallingstad says the proxy ballot is the primary way shareholders learn about election issues. It includes statements from all eight candidates and both sides of the term-limits measure.
“Sealaska has very smart shareholders. We have very engaged shareholders. And we encourage them to use all of these tools to get the information they need to cast an informed vote,” she says.
An earlier attempt to institute term limits was more severe. The 2009 effort would have limited Sealaska board members to only two consecutive terms, or six years in office.
The vote was close, with about 45 percent of shares cast in favor and about 48 percent opposed.
But to win, the measure needed half plus one of all shares that could have been cast. In those terms, the measure only got about 35 percent of the vote.
It’s the same requirement this year. And Beasley admits it will be hard to overcome Sealaska’s ability to buy advertisements and campaign.
“Well, I don’t like my money being spent like that, but I’m kind of powerless. A lot of other people don’t like it either. In fact, they’re just furious over it,” Beasley says.
Many shareholder proxy ballots have already been cast. But Sealaska won’t release numbers until the voting period is over, at its June 23rd annual meeting in Juneau.
Beasley says the latest vote-count he’s seen shows the measure behind. But he and his supporters are continuing to wage their campaign through word-of-mouth and Facebook.
A Shareholders-for-Term-Limits page has more than 1,300 members. Sealaska’s corporate Facebook page has about 1,200.
Total shareholder numbers are just above 21,000, with many living outside Southeast Alaska.
Read the full proxy statement, including pro and con arguments on term limits and candidate statements. Term limits information is on pages 10-12.
Eight candidates are running for five board seats. Incumbents seeking re-election are Angoon’s Albert Kookesh, Juneau’s Joseph Nelson, Haines’ Bill Thomas, Juneau’s Barbara Cadiente-Nelson and Bothell, Washington’s, J. Tate London.
Three independent candidates are also seeking board seats: Ray Austin of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Will Micklin of Alpine, California, and Edward Sarabia of South Glastonbury, Connecticut.