In an hour-long interview with the Peninsula Clarion last week, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey assessed his administration and discussed future plans. He expressed a commitment to fiscal conservatism that he said will include job cuts in his upcoming budget proposal. Carey also indulged our request to assign himself a letter grade for his mayoral performance to date. What follows is an edited transcript of Friday's interview:
Clarion: Think back to your life as a teacher. Now consider your life as mayor. How would you compare your happiness level with day-to-day life as a teacher versus day-to-day life as a mayor?
Carey: There is more hard work every day. In the other things there were time periods when you had to get grades in, when you had parent conferences. There were things that were difficult because you didn't know what was going to happen. With the borough mayor now on a daily basis what reaches me are those things that are more difficult. Anyone can walk in on any day with any issue. Last week I had three young men from So-Hi come in and they were working on a "Caring for the Kenai" project working with energy efficiency, and they knew I'd been on the HEA [Homer Electric Association] board. That was wonderful, but it did take an hour of time to brainstorm with them. That was an hour that quite frankly could have been used in other places, not better, but other.
Clarion: Can you highlight a success of your administration?
Carey: When I came in, at Moose Pass there were issues with the septic site there The issue was we have to move it. There were some who wanted it on the south side, some who wanted it on the north and we needed to make a decision.
We came in, we had a number of meetings with the community, we listened and it was pretty much done. We made the initial presentation to the people there, and they didn't like it. We then looked at the options we had and came up with a different site.
We had to work in terms of getting the land improved. We put up lights and cameras so we could monitor what goes on. We will service the waste site more often. This Monday we are doing the ribbon cutting on the new waste transfer facility in Moose Pass. It may sound like a small thing, but it has truly taken 17 months to come up with something the community could agree to.
Clarion: What's been the biggest struggle so far in your administration?
Carey: A non-success has been the effort to lower how much property tax people paid. Last year, in my first budget, I asked for a decrease in the mill rate for property tax. The assembly said no. They felt that the half-mill reduction, they were just unsure of . . . I don't question pretty much anything the assembly does because they have their own role and they have their view. So although I was hoping to lower the mill rate, they said no, and I did other tax initiatives following that and they said no, too. So trying to lower property tax is what I have not been able to achieve ... In about six weeks I will be again presenting a budget that asks for a mill rate reduction for property owners.
Clarion: Let's discuss the budget. You've talked a lot about being fiscally conservative. What does that mean to you and what does that mean for the residents of the borough as far as what to expect from your budget?
Carey: It is truly a balancing between the services that we need and we can constitutionally provide and the amount of funds people are willing to put in to provide those services. As a conservative, I want to ensure that every penny that we spend, that we do it correctly, we do it as inexpensively as possible and that we don't take on more service than we really need to be doing. It's a constant balancing ... There's no blueprint.
I want to make sure that regulations that are in place are being enforced and they're needed. We have been very actively re-writing many of the rules. As I am working on this budget, what I told all the staff is that their budget cannot go up more than what cost of living has gone up. Throughout the year, every opening we've had, I've met with that department person and asked, "Do we need that position?"
I'm going to use the example that I can speak to: My office. For quite awhile, the borough has had an economic analyst. They basically take all the data throughout the borough on every city by all these categories and they put out this wonderful book called "Situation and Prospects." I questioned that this is a function the borough should have to do. Out of all the things happening, with the economics the way they are, do we really need to be spending a full-time position with all the benefits? In my budget, I will be eliminating that position.
Within my office, I am going to eliminate one-fifth of the positions. Finance is going to put on the responsibility of collecting and putting together the critical information that's needed.
Another area is capital projects. I believe you'll see in the budget the elimination of two positions in capital projects. In the past, those positions would have stayed filled. And those people, to get paid, they have to find a project to work on.
Last year in the budget we presented, we put $400,000 into capital projects because we realized they needed not to have to spend every minute on a project. In my budget, we're going to eliminate two positions. They deal with South Peninsula Hospital and Central Peninsula Hospital. The rest of staff is going to absorb other things. There's going to be more work on their shoulders. I want to eliminate positions if there are ways that we can consolidate.
Clarion: Could you consolidate the special assistant and the chief of staff?
Carey: We're looking at it. It was not my intent to lose my chief of staff. But, in the next four months, I have asked Mr. [Duane] Bannock to step in as acting chief of staff. I have assigned him about five specific projects that I think he is able to do. They will allow some of this realignment, restructuring, looking at energy efficiency and what Susan Wilcox and myself and Duane Bannock are going to look at it if can we in fact do away with one of the two positions there. We're going to look at it, and I very much hope that it's reasonable.
Clarion: What exactly is the role of the chief of staff?
Carey: The borough mayor is unique. There are not hours for the borough mayor. For larger things, you set the policy. But then someone else implements it. So that's where the chief of staff comes in. For many of the mayors, they had a chief of staff who did the primary interface with the department heads to tell them what needed to be done, to make decisions on how they did it, to go over the budget issues and the chief of staff did it. The mayor had roles in terms of interfacing with the federal government, with the state government, with the community. When I came in I said we have to provide much more support to the service areas and the way to do that is to not make the chief of staff handle both general government and the service areas.
Mr. [Hugh] Chumley and I worked at Homer Electric together as board members, and we moved up on state organizations and things. I am very comfortable philosophically on where he stands and how he makes decisions. Although I've never known him personally, we've worked together. I am very comfortable with him as a person and he's very comfortable with me. I don't know I can find a replacement to who he is as a person. I could assign a person his responsibilities, but I can't replace that individual.
Clarion: What do you think of Duane Bannock's management philosophy?
Carey: I very much like Duane's expansive thinking. He is committed to serving the people of the borough. The fact that he has personal plans in the future to run for office again I think is a positive because it keeps him tied in.
His philosophy and mine in terms of government starts with the people moving up. It's very consistent. I like it, and I like his energy. Sometimes high-energy people can be kind of competitive with each other. That's the nature. I think we're both alphas. But Duane does not have the need to overdo. My job is to bring in people who are more qualified than I am to do the specific job that they do. Duane I certainly find very compatible. What I do not have with Duane is 20 years and there's no way to make it up ... By July 1, I will know what it is that I am going to do, but my plan is absolutely that Duane will go back to Spruce Bark Beetle on July 1.
Clarion: If you were to combine the special assistant and the chief of staff, would that person, because they are taking on more responsibilities, receive a pay scale increase?
Carey: No. But I need to explain it. As the assembly approved all the job descriptions, which include the pay scales, they changed the special assistant from a seven to a six [salary level]. If we did away with the position, code does not have a chief of staff or a special assistant. What code has is an administrative officer. If indeed I did eliminate that position, what I see is an administrative officer, who would be a seven ... So whoever gets that position would be at the bottom dollar for a code seven.
Clarion: What about pay scale decreases or bringing people back down to the minimum salary allowed at their level? Is that something that you've considered?
Carey: The idea of just going in and lowering salaries, I can't do. What I can do is when there is a new person coming in we can move them to a lower level than they are. But can I across the board just go in and lower wages? Not at all.
Clarion: Finally, I'd like to ask you to assign a letter grade to your administration.
Carey: I absolutely give myself an A for effort because I know I am working as hard as I can.
Accomplishments? I'm at a C level. I hoped when I came in I could make some changes very quickly, and the reality is the bureaucracy and the people involved required that I have more knowledge than what I had. So when I was trying to implement things, it didn't work. I ran into some real walls. At the same time, the assembly, in wisdom, realized [Carey] needs to go slow and that isn't who I am as a person. I see a C in terms of what was achieved.
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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