Ten run for five Sealaska Corp. board seats

Five independent candidates are challenging five incumbents for seats on Sealaska’s board of directors. The election is quieter than last year’s, but not without controversy.

Sealaska’s board reorganized after last year’s election under a new president, Juneau’s Joe Nelson. A new CEO, Anthony Mallott, took the helm around the same time, and some other top officials have been replaced.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation's headquarters.
Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

But there’s still plenty of conflict over the Southeast regional Native corporation’s practices. That includes five straight years of business losses.

The incumbents say the corporation is healthy. And they express confidence shared by Mallott, who says Sealaska is headed in the right direction.

“That’s financial progress. That’s strong operational platforms. That’s comfort that we can create increasing benefit for our shareholders,” he said in a recent interview.

Two incumbent board candidates live in Juneau. Nelson is a University of Alaska Southeast official. Barbara Cadiente-Nelson is a grants administrator and tribal government treasurer.

Former state senator and longtime board chairman Albert Kookesh of Angoon is another incumbent. So are former state representative and fisherman Bill Thomas of Haines and attorney Tate London of Bothell, Washington.

Most of the challengers are critical of the corporation’s programs and business operations.

Sealaska reported losses of more than $50 million in 2013. It recently announced a significant boost in earnings for 2014, but it still lost about $9.5 million.

Two of the five independent candidates are from Juneau. Karen Taug is a controller and former board chairwoman of an urban Native corporation. Brad Fluetsch  is an investment adviser and former Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp president.

Ray Austin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works in information technology, is also running as an independent candidate. So are social service program manager Catherine Edwards of Woodland Hills, California, and Yakutat Tlingit Tribe office manager Ralph Wolfe, a former Sealaska youth board member.

In addition to the incumbents, several of the challengers have run before.

One not on this year’s ballot is Mick Beasley, the independent with the highest vote count in last year’s election. He says three times is enough.

“You don’t want to get toxic. You want people to believe what they say. So to go and ask people repeatedly and repeatedly, I just don’t think that’s proper,” he said.

Also missing this year is an opposition slate.

A group called 4 Shareholders for Sealaska organized a well-funded challenge last year that put member Ross Soboleff on the board.

Carton Smith, a Juneau real estate company owner, was one of the four. He may run again in the future, but not this year.

“My concern last year was that the corporation was reeling for the losses posted in the 2013 financials. And now there’s new management, so let’s see what they can do,” he said.

Taug is the only member of that group running this year.

Many of Sealaska’s approximately 22,000 shareholders have already cast their proxy ballots. Results will be announced at Sealaska’s annual meeting, June 27 in Juneau.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.