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Assembly apologizes to itself

At issue: Improper debate and offensive language

Posted: August 13, 2013 - 9:55pm  |  Updated: August 21, 2013 - 6:32pm

After months of biting accusations, name calling and cross talk, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week apologized to itself for the lack of required debate decorum during public meetings.

The apologies came during a Meeting of the Whole, prior to last Tuesday’s regular meeting, and with little public attendance. Passed around with apologies were copies of Mason’s Legislative Manual Chapter 13 — eight pages about maintaining decorum during debate.

What did not come from the gathering of borough leadership was a direct apology to the public, some of whom were direct targets of the assembly’s verbal ire dished out along with the contentious debate during deliberations on the recently passed anadromous streams ordinance.

Assembly president Linda Murphy said that debate grew contentious, things got lax and bad habits developed.

“I think I am as guilty as any member,” she said.

Not all members of the assembly overstepped decorum. And, not all that did have yet apologized publicly.

The communication issues began to build up in June and then grew again in July. Some members made improper remarks, others called each other names and some made faces.

District 1 Assemblyman Kelly Wolf, who opposed the passage of the salmon stream ordinance as an overreaching land-grab, said that some on the assembly were acting like “Nazis.”

Wolf, a former state legislator, said that during his time on the assembly he’s also been targeted, called names, been accused of being unethical and operating with conflict — all the kinds of talk that he said did not occur in Juneau at the state government level.

“Yes, I’ve taken offense to that,” Wolf said, without acknowledging his own shortcomings.

Murphy said that the negative issues circling on-the-record assembly debate were not all verbal; some on the assembly roll their eyes when members or the public giving testimony speak.

“I’m a really emotional person,” Murphy said, admitting that it shows on her face. “We want people to feel comfortable.”

According to Mason’s Legislative Manual, “disorderly words” thrown about by members can be objected too by any member and can be “taken down.” A vote on the offensiveness is to follow and if the overall body agrees that those words are indeed offensive they should enter the official record via the meeting minutes.

“I’ve never been directed to take anything down,” Kenai Borough Clerk Joni Blankenship said this week. She’s been at the borough for 14 years. Taking action based on the legislative manual would come from Murphy, she said.

Last week’s Meeting of the Whole was called in response to the July 2 meeting, the night the streams ordinance won the vote to regulate a 50-foot buffer along the shoreline of salmon bearing streams, public or private.

That night Murphy called out fellow assembly member Charlie Pierce and Wolf during the contentious anadromous streams debate.

Pierce on several occasions hurled insults at fellow assembly members within his on-the-record commentary, including a wish that all who voted for the salmon ordinance never be elected to public office again.

“Debate the issue not the names,” Pierce said.

“I shouldn’t have used their names,” Murphy said about her public admonishment for their behavior, which she said somewhat mirrors the general lack of “civil discourse” in society.

“I don’t want the assembly to be that way,” she said.

District 8 Assemblyman Bill Smith offered a straightforward apology for his role. “I apologize for using Pierce’s name,” he said.

District 2 Assemblyman Hal Smalley smoothed the grievances over and encouraged the assembly make its amends and avoid the degraded debate in the future.

“We each suffer the failure of being human,” Smalley said.

Smalley was on several occasions, since May, mocking and dismissive of public testimony and concerns. He offered no apology last week.

Regular assembly meeting attendee Michele Hartline spoke, during last week’s regular meeting, about the lack of decorum among the assembly. Murphy disparaged her to a community member she said before calling for the assembly president’s resignation.

“She has apologized, but this apology is not sufficient,” Hartline said, before storming out of the meeting.

The salmon issue was undoubtedly emotion-filled and is indicative of the polarized nature in contemporary American society wherein some feel that government is the cause of all problems, Murphy said.

“Government looks different to some of us,” she said. “Government can’t fix all (problems), but it’s not the cause of all problems either.”

Between the July meeting and August meetings, Murphy and Wolf decided to take action. They considered holding a closed-door session to work through the issues away from the public that watched them violate the accepted norms of behavior.

According to Murphy, the borough attorney said the assembly could have legally gone behind closed doors with the issues and apologies and not violated the state open meetings act, but there was no real reason to not work through the apologies in public.

“Behind closed doors, people would have wondered what we were up too,” Murphy said.


Reach Greg Skinner at

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4FIVE4 08/14/13 - 09:18 am
Who are you working for?

I'm for replacing ALL politicians that work for special interest, not the people. When our elected officials do not listen to the will of the people they need to go. Whether at a local or state level. People need to make it a priority to get out and vote, and let these people know what happens when they don't listen to their constituents.

bob99507 08/14/13 - 09:38 am
The assemble owes us the

The assemble owes us the voters a apology we voted in term limits then they say it is complicated they are sure we the voters didn't mean it we need to vote them all out

Allen 08/14/13 - 10:58 am
Thank you to Clarion reporter

Thank you to Clarion reporter Greg Skinner for this article, and calling out assembly members who are combative and dismissive of the public and their colleagues.

However, this is a failure of leadership. Whether on the borough or city level, when our elected officials are rude and disrespectful to each other, or to the public, the assembly president or city mayor is to blame. Sometimes the president or mayor is guilty of this conduct themselves.

The assembly president or city mayor can and should gavel down unruly assembly or council members who snipe at each other and members of the public. Other assembly or city council members should object when the president or mayor interrupts a speaker, or is rude and disrespectful to their colleagues or the public.

Until we get some better quality leadership, this bad behavior is just going to continue. You can tell because the worst offenders won't even admit their bad behavior.

LHART11 08/14/13 - 05:04 pm
Lipstick on a Pig

Putt'n lipstick on the pig won't change anything.

We need to accept the fact that this is the type of small-minded, unprofessional, egotistical, and emotional selfishness that we elected to make critical decisions for our lives and community. The only way to change it is to elect someone else.

I had an experience with Assembly President Linda Murphy several years ago when she was Borough Clerk. She was the nastiest, most confrontational and uncooperative public servant I have ever experienced. I was in disbelief this person actually held a job, let alone one dealing with the public. Disagree with her about something, and she will unlease her nasty wrath. So from the top down, I suspect it was her tone that set precedent with the Assembly. It was certainly her responsibility to control it.

My conversations with both Assemblymen Bill Smith and Mako Haggerty concerning the anadromous ordinance were argumentative, demeaning, arrogant, and non-objective. I might as well have been talking to the wall. Kelly Wolf was very respectful, constructive, and he listened. The Administration dug it's heels in too. Their effort was not one of listening and serving the people, but one of convincing the people of their political position. The whole mess trickled down to the Task Force too, where the majority of the Mayor's appointed members already had preconceived outcomes that drove their task and their recommendation.

The issue goes far deeper than attitudes and behavior of Assemblymen. It's about tainting the process by failing to represent the people, and pushing other agendas and interests instead.

Voting these politicians out of office can't come soon enough.

spwright 08/14/13 - 05:48 pm
Spittin' Contest

Well If you think that is something ? Ya shoulda heard our very own Leader of the State House of Representatives on KSRM's "Sound Off" July 26th,13 & a Nikiski Resident going to verbal Battle over a proposed disposal site in Nikiski.

How dumb do You have to be to make violent threats over a public radio broadcast & the whole world is Listening ? The term Dumb & Dumber comes to mind.

It went from civil discussion to Hate filled cussin & discussing & screaming at each other over the radio. Yes it was UGLY.

All of this was arranged before hand & both were on the radio at the same time. They knew this was going to be Ugly. Those that were supposed to be In Control could be heard Laughing in the background. They planned this confrontation.

btw: I say the words : Republican B S & get kicked Off the Air for a month. Figure that One Out ? SPW

robert white
robert white 08/14/13 - 06:02 pm
my god

thumbs up to every post!!!!

akal 08/15/13 - 10:00 am

vote these bums out at the soonest possible time . they don't deserve their office.

Raoulduke 08/16/13 - 05:04 am

The voters ELECTED these emotional immature's to the Assembly.Maybe some leadership in oneself to vote for the RIGHT minded,and the candidate's.who have the voters in # 1 position on their priority list's.These are Elected official's not Royalty.

bluffbunny 08/16/13 - 01:55 pm
KP assembly

When I confronted one of the Assembly MEN, and asked him what facts I could give him, to convince him to change his mind about the anadromous stream issue, he replied ;"NOTHING".
This does not indicate that he is the slightest bit interested in what his constituents want.
If YOU are tired of being lectured to, ignored and insulted....GET OUT AND VOTE THEM ALL OUT! And be sure to get your friends and neighbors to go out and VOTE, too!
And if you have time and/or others who are working to vote them out. We don't need term limits- to LIMIT THEIR TERMS!
Who knows.....if we could get a majority of NEW Assembly members, we might be able to 're-visit' the over reaching edicts this bunch has forced onto us?

Norseman 08/18/13 - 09:32 pm
voter apathy is what is

voter apathy is what is responsible for the mess we have ourselves in. Folks just don't get off their couches and go vote anymore.

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