The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will soon consider a request from borough administration to make a fourth modification in the last 14 months to borough code relating to administrative personnel.
Since late 2011, the assembly has periodically approved small changes to a particular section of code including removing the requirement that vacant administrative jobs be advertised in newspapers for two weeks, later that those job vacancies be advertised at all, and recently to increase the salary schedule of those employees, and others, by 4.6 percent.
The recently introduced Ordinance 2013-04 would remove the requirement that the assembly approve all administrative position job descriptions, a stipulation approved by the assembly and included in borough code in 2009. Since it was enacted, the assembly has considered 15 resolutions seeking approval of six new and 94 amended job descriptions, a number of which were different amendments to the same positions. Only one of those new descriptions was defeated.
The changes considered and approved navigate the boundary between the powers of the assembly and the administration when it comes to who the mayor chooses to help run the borough.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the regulations for advertising and job descriptions implemented during Dave Carey’s previous administration were clogging up the process of filling recent vacancies in his administration. He described the ordinance as “more housekeeping than anything.”
“If you have a position now and you want to change that job description, get the position filled and move forward you’ve got to go to the assembly and tell the assembly you are doing a competent job of administering government, which is the mayor’s responsibility and authority anyway,” he said.
Borough Human Resources Director Stormy Brown said the hundreds of job descriptions existing in borough paperwork were “never approved in the first place” and that has caused a “log jam” as the borough tries to hire new employees and streamline qualifications among similar positions. For instance, she said, there are seven different job descriptions for eight fire department chiefs in the borough.
“What we have is a whole bunch of positions that are hither and yon,” she said. “They have all kinds of requirements and haven’t been updated in a long time and so when we go to post something, say when we have someone leave or resign, we go to start looking at the job descriptions and realize that we can either use what we have — go shopping with an old shopping list — or we can go through this very long (assembly) process … and add six to eight weeks.”
Currently, positions contained in the borough’s Appendix A (or non-union positions) other than administrative positions — those that are confidential including the mayor’s office, the human resources department and the borough clerk’s office — do not need to have their job descriptions approved by the assembly.
Among the previous ordinances that affected administrative positions and Appendix A employees, include:
■ Ordinance 2011-40, which removed the requirement that all administrative position vacancies be advertised in newspapers of general circulation. Introduced by Dave Carey and enacted Dec. 6, 2011.
■ Ordinance 2012-29, which deleted the requirement added in 2009 that all administrative position vacancies be advertised for two weeks. Introduced by Navarre and enacted Sept. 4, 2012.
■ Resolution 2012-054, which increased the salary ranges for Appendix A by 4.6 percent — a 3.6 percent cost of living increase and a 1 percent raise — that mirrored what borough union employees received by contract on July 1, 2012. The salary schedule had not been increased since 2010. Appendix A personnel includes all administrative positions and confidential positions. Introduced by Navarre and adopted June 19, 2012.
Navarre defended his request to eliminate the requirement that open administrative positions be advertised because there is no requirement that the mayor consider the applications received.
“That’s really not fair to anybody and ... the assembly is also getting into the administrative authority in terms of how government is administered,” he said. “The assembly sets the policy but does not administer government. There is a line there I think that needs to be better clarified and the reality of it is that’s the way it was prior to the last administration.”
He said it was a “false premise” that the job description approval provided any public oversight or protection. He also pointed to the fact that new administrative employees are reviewed and confirmed by the assembly and that any new positions created are up for scrutiny by the assembly during the budget process.
Assembly member Bill Smith said he championed those changes years ago because he was concerned they had financial implications that were not brought before the assembly or the public.
“So we ended up adopting an ordinance saying if you were going to change a job description and the salary ranges it needs to be before the assembly because then the public will get a chance to review it along with the assembly,” he said.
Smith countered Navarre’s assessment that the requirements were crossing the assembly-administrative line; the assembly not only has a policy role, but an oversight role, he said.
“So that’s what we went forward with in hopes that even though very few people are actually interested in those details, it is nonetheless part of the public business and how we spend the public’s money,” Smith said. “... There had been in the past concerns about the way some issues had been handled and we thought this would be a way to clean it up and put it out before the public.”
While the positions are included in the budget, Smith said a strong mayor could take a position and jump it several salary ranges “and you would never know it unless you asked for a specific report, which typically we don’t.”
Smith also questioned whether or not the requirements were truly cumbersome and unnecessary, and whether or not the assembly should be changing borough code to suit the desires of each new mayor or human resources director.
“We are not going to lose all of our fire chiefs overnight and (Brown) has plenty of time to rewrite those and bring them to us before there is a change,” Smith said. “So? So there are seven different descriptions? Fix it. It is not that the assembly review of those changes is cumbersome or is going it interfere with them hiring a fire chief, as far as I can see.”
However, Smith said he would like to keep assembly review of significant salary range changes.
“As I read it ... it (the ordinance) would include everything about the job because the job description drives the salary range,” he said. “So if you change a position from being a handyman to a supervisor then that drives whatever the salary range has got to be.”
Brown said a salary change in an administrative position is at the discretion of the mayor in the budget whether or not the job description changes.
“A raise does not have to be approved by the assembly,” she said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not we change the line of this job description that today says, ‘Administrative assistant will use a tape recorder versus will use an XYZ system.’”
Moreover, Brown said for any union position that is to become administrative or Appendix A — making a handyman a supervisor — the mayor must submit a resolution to the assembly for approval. The ordinance would not change that, she said.
Public testimony on Ordinance 2013-04 will be taken at the assembly’s Feb. 19 meeting. The assembly will meet tonight at 7 p.m. at the George A. Navarre Borough Building at 144 N. Binkley St. in Soldotna.
Brian Smith can be reached at email@example.com.