After a significant community outcry, one member has resigned from the Upper Susitna Seniors, Inc. board of directors, and the board president says the organization is looking at policies regarding future directors. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:
Normally, the regular monthly board meetings of Upper Susitna Seniors, Inc. do not draw much of a crowd, but more than forty people attended to observe or speak at last week’s meeting.
The issue that brought so many to the Upper Susitna Senior Center was board member Samuel Register. News had begun to circulate that Register is on the state’s sex offender registry, and many of those present came to urge the board to remove him.
Before the public addressed the board, vice-chair Larry Dearman spoke at length regarding Samuel Register’s history, from his conviction and time in the corrections system until now. Dearman says there is more than one side to the story.
“So you all are all here with one side of a story, and I am trying to give you side two of the story. You, all of you, are the investigators looking for the truth, or are you puppets of one person, Ms. Krepel, who spreads side one on Facebook and never made an attempt to hear side two.”
Register’s convictions are for multiple counts of Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the First Degree. According to state court records, Register plead no contest to the charges. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, and forced to undergo treatment. Larry Dearman says testing at the conclusion of that treatment shows Register as a low risk to re-offend.
Jenny Krepel was the first speak for those who wished to see Register removed from the board.
“I am here, with many more in the audience, to ask you to enact a policy to make registered sex offenders ineligible from being a board member. I am here to ask you specifically to remove Sam Register from your board.”
Afterwards, multiple people also asked for Samuel Register’s removal from the board, citing the fact that the center serves a vulnerable population of seniors, and that family and children’s events, including Girl Scout meetings, are held at the senior center.
Since the original charges in 1996, Samuel Register has not been convicted of another serious crime. Late last year, a massage therapist accused him of exposing himself to her, but the Alaska State Troopers ultimately did not file charges. The official report of the incident says that the trooper believed a crime could not be substantiated.
Not all who spoke were in favor of Register’s removal from the board, and questioned at what point his debt to society has been paid.
After the audience spoke, board members took their opportunity to address the issue. Board president Herman Thompson says the board was unaware of Samuel Register’s history, and that things would have been different had they known of Register’s status as a sex offender.
“We did not have a clear policy about this issue. We will have [one]. We did not do our due diligence up front. That will never happen again. If we had done so…he would not be on the board. That I can tell you for sure.”
Samuel Register was one of the last people to speak at the board meeting. He said he would consider resigning from the board.
“If, indeed, it is an issue for me to be on the board. I’ll be the first one to step down. I don’t have a problem with it, because if it’s right, that’s what I intend to do, and I will do the right thing.”
Register’s presence on the board for that meeting came after two requests for his resignation, and one vote to attempt to remove him, which failed to achieve the necessary supermajority.
A special meeting was called for Tuesday, but was canceled after Samuel Register resigned his directorship on Saturday. After the resignation, board president Herman Thompson says the board will implement background check procedures for new members.
“You know, somebody walks in the door and says, ‘What can I do to help?’ you scarf them up. It never occurred to us that we should do a background check. However, that’s not going to happen again.”
The drafting of those new policies and procedures is currently underway.
Thompson says one reason the issue was difficult for the board comes from balancing fairness to an individual with what is best for the organization.
“That’s a tough nut, trying to be fair. But it’s such an emotional issue, and rightly so. I know there are probably some people in that group that were at that meeting that feel we were trying to cover up. No. That was never our intention.”
Herman Thompson acknowledges that the board controversy may have impacts on some programs, including attendance at the weekly lunches held at the senior center, but says he’s sure the organization will continue on.
Samuel Register did not respond to a request for comment following his resignation.