Peter Segall | Juneau Empire 
                                Goldbelt Inc. Board of Directors Chair Todd Antioquia, left, and interim President and CEO McHugh Pierre, sit down for an interview at the Juneau Empire offices Thursday.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire Goldbelt Inc. Board of Directors Chair Todd Antioquia, left, and interim President and CEO McHugh Pierre, sit down for an interview at the Juneau Empire offices Thursday.

High payraise yields cricitism, board of directors shake-up for Goldbelt

A payrise and alleged lack of transparency drew criticism from shareholders

Read an update here: Goldbelt Inc. reduces pay raise for board members

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A Juneau-based Alaska Native corporation elected new leadership on its board of directors after shareholders criticized board members for raised their own salaries without apparent justification or transparency.

The board of directors for Goldbelt Inc., a for-profit urban corporation representing 3,915 shareholders in the U.S., held a special meeting on Dec. 27 to reorganize and elect new officers. The board in July voted to increase their own yearly compensation from $24,000 to $60,000 a year, an amount many shareholders felt was too high for the job.

“The problem is Goldbelt does not consider being a (board member) a job,” said Randy Wanamaker, former Goldbelt board member. “They’re there to provide policy and budget oversight service. They’re only supposed to meet just a few hours a month.”

Wanamaker served on the Goldbelt board from 1993 to 2017 and in that time was board chairman and head of several committees. He also served as a member of the Juneau Assembly. Wanamaker and other shareholders see the change of board members as a response to the criticisms of previous board members.

“It was a response to concern from a lot of shareholders of an unmerited increase, a very large increase,” in direct compensation, Wanamaker said.

Todd Antioquia, the newly-elected chairman of the board, though, said that wasn’t necessarily the case.

The board, Antioquia said, is always looking at ways it can better itself.

“Providing for sound governance, strong policy, articulating strategy moving forward so we can achieve the vision of the corporation,” he said in an interview at the Empire on Thursday. “Being able to provide the resources that management needs to execute on that, those are our priorities.”

As to the pay increase, Antioquia said he was confident the issue will be addressed.

“The board has been actively collecting all the data necessary to create an overarching structure for compensation,” he said. “We’re looking at it holistically rather than just one singular component.”

Board members have been working to find a compensation package that will end up saving the corporation money, according to Antioquia.

Lack of transparency?

In addition to the pay increase, the previous board had been criticized for a lack of transparency. Ray Austin, a Goldbelt shareholder currently residing in New Mexico, went so far as to create a recall petition for four board members: Ben Coronell, Katherine Eldemar, Richard Beasley and Lori Grant.

None of the board members mentioned in the petition could be reached for comment.

Pay increases should have been subject to the approval of the Finance and Audit Committees, where an assessment of the increase would have been done, Wanamaker said.

“A resolution should have been submitted,” Austin said in regard to the pay raise. “There’s a protocol they have to follow, they’re supposed to submit it to the audit committee and the budget committee. I haven’t seen any confirmation it’s gone through the proper channels.”

Antioquia said in an interview he was not sure off-hand if the payraise went through that committee, but that the board was committed to transparency and had always followed the state’s corporate disclosure laws.

Austin’s petition also alleged the board leadership was not properly rotating and assigning critical committee memberships, thereby reducing the power of certain board members. Wanamaker also cited committee appointments as an area of concern.

“Board committee assignments were held by the same group of people with no input from others,” Wanamaker said. “Other directors weren’t allowed an opportunity to serve on (certain) committees.”

Board member Andrea Cadiente-Laiti said not all board members voted for or supported the pay increase, and some have said they support a repeal of the measure. It’s not clear which board members voted for the increase.

There are nine members on the Goldbelt Board of Directors: Antioquia, Beasley, Coronell, Eldemar, Cadiente-Laiti, Leilani Wilson Walkush, Lisa-Marie Ikonomov, Lori M. Grant and William Andews. In the Dec. 27 election, Antiouquia replaced Coronell as board chairman and Wilson Walkush replaced Grant as Vice Chair. Beasley and Ikonomov remained in their positions as treasurer and secretary respectively.

Speaking at the 2019 Goldbelt Shareholder’s Meeting in late July, board member Andrea Cadiente-Laiti called the pay raise “just plain wrong.”

The suggested pay raise, Cadiente-Laiti said, “was not vetted. It was not moved through committees, and by the time it reached us as directors, those of us that voted against it, we let (other board members) know, ‘you did not do an adequate analysis on this.’”

Cadiente-Laiti could not be reached for an interview this week.

Antioquia said the board was committed to adhering to best practices and state laws concerning corporate disclosures.

As a corporation, Goldbelt is subject to the same disclosure laws as any other company incorporated in Alaska, according to Leif Haugen at the state Division of Banking and Securities.

Strong footing for the future

Antioquia and McHugh Pierre, interim president and CEO of Goldbelt, were adamant the corporation was being properly managed.

“Shareholders should feel confident that Goldbelt is a reliable business,” Pierre said.

Pierre said the administrative side of Goldbelt had refined its operations to create a more professional environment and that 2019 had been a record year for profits. Goldbelt had more than $228 million in revenue in 2018, according to that year’s annual report. The report for 2019 would be made available later this year, Pierre said.

But shareholders are hoping the new leadership will be a course correction from previous board members.

“Hoping you bring the corporation back to the shareholders were it belongs,” Sara Gregory said in response to the Facebook post announcing the change in leadership.

“Thank you for your service. I hope you rescind the ridiculous pay raise for yourselves,” Sandy Benzel wrote.

Austin and Wanamaker too were hopeful the new board would be more transparent.

“I think it was good they changed the Chairman of the Board,” Austin said. “I want them to do the right things.”

Wanamaker called the change in leadership a step in the right direction.

“I give them every encouragement,” he said, “to bring about the kind of reforms that are needed.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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