NSEDC fisheries dispute with long-time critic gets nasty

A Sept. 30 Superior Court hearing in Nome could determine whether a protective order commonly sought to protect potential sexual assault victims was improperly employed to prevent an outspoken critic from speaking directly to the board of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.

The order sought against Tim Smith, president of the Nome Fishermen’s Association, was requested by Kyan Olanna, the staff attorney for NSEDC.

The matter is the latest chapter in a years-long feud between NSEDC and Smith, who has led salmon enhancement efforts in the Nome region over several years, sometimes with cooperation and funding of NSEDC, local Native corporations and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Smith is also a member of the Federal Subsistence Board’s regional advisory council.

Aug. 5, two days before this year’s NSEDC’s board meeting in Nome, Olanna filed a personal application for a stalking and sexual assault protective order against Smith.

A 20-day order granted Aug. 6 by Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman stopped Smith from attending NSEDC’s Fisheries Development Committee meeting. This month’s hearing will decide on Olanna’s request for a six-month extension.

“I want to sue them for abuse of process and probably for defamation, too,” contingent on defeating the long-term request, Smith said Aug. 7.

Olanna, who is representing herself in court, did not respond to a request for comment, but referred questions to NSEDC spokesman Tyler Rhodes. He declined to clarify whether Olanna had been ordered not to comment.

“We at NSEDC find it disappointing that your article would choose to give credence to allegations from a man who has already once been found to have committed the crime of stalking against NSEDC employees and board members,” wrote Rhodes in an Aug. 20 email.

“This is a personal matter for an NSEDC employee and we will issue no other comment other than requesting her privacy be respected. It is shameful and flat wrong to allege that actions NSEDC and/or its employees have taken in the interest of personal safety are somehow an attempt to prevent board members from hearing proposals from Mr. Smith.”

At the NSEDC Fisheries Committee’s publicly advertised, public comment meeting a year earlier, Smith was ejected by a Nome police officer after refusing to stop tape recording the session.

That confrontation led to a six-month order preventing Smith from entering NSEDC offices, seafood plants and other facilities or from any direct business contacts with board members or corporate employees, except in writing and sent to the law firm Jermain Dunnagan & Owens, which is representing NSEDC against Smith.

Smith said he wants to speak directly with board members because, among others, he believes the NSEDC administration blocks or censors communications that are critical of its fisheries or corporate operations.

“It’s pretty much the way things work in Norton Sound. It’s politically somewhere a cross between the old Soviet Union and the Deep South. Controlling information is a real big deal” in Nome, said Eric Osborne, a Nome Fishermen’s Association member.

After four terms on the NSEDC’s Fisheries Committee, Osborne said he was summarily removed several years ago after a conflict, completely unrelated to fisheries or CDQ business, with a friend of NSEDC board chairman Dan Harrelson.

Osborne said visits by federal and state officials, including an August visit by the Alaska House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, get limited, if any advertising or opportunity for public comment.

“It’s gotten a lot worse since NSEDC got going. They were one of the first entities to be really afraid of public participation,” Osborne said Sept. 2.

Short-term protective orders like the one Olanna received in August are normally sought to protect a person in fear for their personal safety and are granted without an opportunity for their target to respond. Olanna, who lives in Anchorage, acknowledged in her application that Smith, who lives in Nome, “has no relationship with me.”

Her complaint alleges that Smith “has a history of stalking employees and director of my employer and began threatening me and making false allegations against me,” after she became NSEDC’s general counsel.

Like Rhodes’ email statement, the complaint says Smith was “found to have committed the crime of stalking” against NSEDC in the 2012 long-term order. That court document, like the recent short-term order, states that the court found “probable cause” that Smith committed the crime of stalking, but adds, “This finding is a civil finding, not a criminal conviction.”

Olanna also complained that Smith “appears to have violated the 2012 protective order by writing a letter to the Nome Nugget editor ... which repeatedly accused me of committing a felony” through allegedly perjured statements and “discouraging witnesses from testifying at the long term order.”

Smith noted that the letter was published in October 2012 and that Olanna’s new complaint is effectively a request for a renewal of the corporation’s expired order.

With the exception of Smith’s statement at the July 30, 2013, Nome City Council meeting that he planned to attend the NSEDC session, all of the allegedly improper conduct by Smith described in the pending application relates to the 2012 incident when Olanna was representing NSEDC.

Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected].

09/19/2013 - 11:04am