Sitka park gets interim superintendent

By Craig Giammona
Sitka, Alaska (AP) June 2010

Mary Miller, who recently was removed as superintendent of Sitka National Historical Park, said in a statement that she will not accept a Native liaison position in the National Park Service’s Anchorage office.

“Despite this flattering offer, Sitka is my home,” Miller said in a statement that was released through David Voluck, the attorney she hired after she was removed from the top job at SNHP.

“I support the National Park Service Regional Office’s efforts to establish the Native liaison position, and trust that they will employ due diligence in recruiting the right person. But that person is not me. I need to stay here in my hometown of Sitka...I think there is still a great deal more work to be done at the park, and would look forward to lending my continued energy and determination to these accomplishments,” said Miller, a STA tribal citizen who took over at the park in early 2008. ‘

Voluck said he spoke to Miller today and that she did not want to comment further. He said he had been hired as an “advocate” to ensure Miller’s “rights are being respected.”

Randy Larson, a top official at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, has been named interim superintendent of SNHP.

Larson said he was “detailed” to Sitka for three months, beginning on May 5, primarily to “help during their peak summer operations.”

Morgan Warthin, a spokesman for the Park Service’s Anchorage office, confirmed that Larson would be in Sitka for three months and said Miller had been offered a job in the Anchorage office. She declined to provide much more information about the situation.

“It’s a personnel matter; we’ll leave it at that,” she said.

Larson is chief ranger at Glacier Bay, and said he has worked for the Park Service for 26 years.

He told the Sentinel his post at Glacier Bay was his first job in Alaska.

He said events surrounding Sitka National Historical Park’s centennial celebration would move ahead as planned.

“The park, like the rest of the community, is busy as we’ve started in earnest our cruise season,” Larson said.

Last February, the National Park Service dispatched a team of top officials from the West Coast to review Sitka operations. The review found that the work environment at SNHP was characterized by “very low morale.”

The report said 13 of 16 permanent employees had left the park, or were making plans to leave, and that the “mass exodus” had created “severe problems.”

The report found that the park had no annual budget process, and that the development of “distrustful if not hostile work relationships negatively impact operations.”

The report gave Miller credit for working with other organizations in the community and increasing the visibility of the park. The report said it was “readily apparent to the review team that the park is rightly focused on and has been successful in efforts to better serve the Sitka community.”

“Given all the difficulties at the management level, it is a remarkable testament to the park staff that in spite of the heavy seasonal visitation, park facilities appear to be in good condition and it appears that a positive visitor center is provided,” the report said.

The report credited the “ambitious” plans for the centennial celebration and said the plan shows “great vision” and should “build interest and engagement in the park for the local community and other visitors.”

But the review team expressed concern that the “park lacks the capacity in lead time and staffing to effectively manage the myriad logistics to prepare for the events.”

Woody Widmark, chairman of Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Tribal Council, said that STA was concerned about Miller’s removal.

STA sent letters to the Department of Interior and the Park Service’s Anchorage office asking for an explanation for Miller’s removal, but has not yet received any response, Widmark said.

“The regional director is not coming forward to give an answer on why she was removed,” Widmark said.

He said that as far as STA was concerned there had been “positive changes” at the park during Miller’s tenure. He said STA worked well with past superintendents, but that there had been “more communication (and) better dialogue than there had been in the past.”

He said although the Obama Administration has stated its intent to work more closely with tribes, STA was not consulted in this situation.

“What they said on a national scale, (those) positive changes were happening here,” Widmark said. “Ironically, it was taken away. That’s the frustrating part.”