Assembly only obeying law, protecting public with executive session on prison

Acting in borough's best interests

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

I am writing to respond to your recent editorial, "Assembly should put public interest ahead of private secrets." I am writing this letter as an individual Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member. I am amazed at the many flaws in logic and fact that can be found in this editorial. Let us examine those many flaws and failings in detail.

First, the editorial blew past the issue of the legal rights of the companies offering proposals as if they didn't deserve even a second thought. If these points of laws had been more thoroughly researched, the Peninsula Clarion would have found that the assembly was acting in the best interests of the borough by going into executive session to evaluate these proposals.

By law, all proposals for any competitive proposal process must remain confidential until a contract is signed. It doesn't matter whether the contract is for providing secretarial services or prison services. The reason that the code requires this confidentiality is to protect the competitive process and the best interests of the borough.

The borough solicits proposals that are intended to give the citizens of the borough the best possible offer from each company. Laying out the facts of these proposals in public before the winning company is chosen would taint the entire process. Once the first company presented their proposal, the next company making a presentation could then adjust their proposal, thus providing an unfair advantage to whichever company follows the other.

Until a contract is negotiated with the winning company, signed by the winning company and approved by the assembly, by law, the details of all proposals must remain confidential. To violate our own laws regarding confidentiality is to invite lawsuit after lawsuit from the losing companies at potentially great expense to the citizens of the borough.

But apparently, as far at the Peninsula Clarion is concerned, that is just a minor point of law that can be ignored without any thought or care about the ramifications. Based on the opinion expressed in the Sunday editorial, it appears that the Peninsula Clarion is now advocating that the borough assembly pick and choose at its whim when the competitive proposal laws of the Kenai Peninsula Borough should be followed.

Another perspective of the editorial was that the assembly should be "... zealous in taking the public with it every step of the way." Let's look at that point very carefully. The Clarion was absolutely correct in that statement. The assembly should be very careful to engage the public on this issue as each step is taken. And, in my opinion, the members of the assembly have been doing this in great detail.

There has been a lot of input at assembly meetings both for and against the prison. And I have also been receiving numerous e-mails, letters, faxes and personal conversations about this issue, as I am sure all the other members of the assembly have also.

But what the editorial fails to recognize, or even remember, is the numerous public hearings that have been held already on this very issue since August of last year, not to mention the numerous newspaper and radio stories that have been published regarding this issue.

And even more public hearings will be held in the future. Those future hearings include the approval of the final negotiated contract with the winning company. This hearing will provide the public with the opportunity to examine the winning company's credentials, qualifications and proposal in great detail and to then express its opinion on whether to approve or disapprove this contract to the assembly. The Peninsula Clarion apparently forgot this fact.

So just to make sure this doesn't happen again, I would remind the Peninsula Clarion that there will be future public hearings in the state Legislature on the issue of authorizing the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a site for the prison. And if that legislation passes, there will also be numerous hearings in front of the assembly regarding:

1. Evaluating and approving the site location for the prison.

2. Approving the negotiated contract with the state of Alaska for the capital funding and design standards for the prison.

3. Approving the issuance of Kenai Peninsula Borough revenue bonds to fund the construction of the prison.

4. Approving the final contracts for design and construction of the prison.

5. Approving the final contract with the state of Alaska Department of Corrections for the operational funding and standards for the prison.

6. Approving the contracts between the borough and the private company for the operating of the prison.

While it may appear to be a short list of hearings, each of these hearings will add up to months and months of public hearings that will more than likely stretch out well into the year 2002. And at any number of points in this process, this project can be stopped dead in its tracks if that is the will of the citizens of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

As to the editorial perspective that the assembly has chosen to "... decide what the public should and should not know," I would restate my earlier points. By law, the assembly cannot open the proposals to the public until a final contract is signed. Nor can it discuss the details of the proposals in public. That's the law. Period. A point conveniently ignored by the editorial of the Peninsula Clarion.

The members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly all took an oath to uphold the laws of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state of Alaska. I believe all the assembly members take that oath very seriously. The members of the assembly work diligently to balance all perspectives on the issues that come before us, and we work even harder to engage the citizens of the borough in the many issues that we face every day as we endeavor to perform our jobs as assembly members.

Do we go into executive session often? Hardly! We have rarely done so in the past, and only to discuss matters of the greatest legal sensitivity and potential liability to the borough.

The Peninsula Clarion has portrayed the assembly as acting out of control, working in secret and not acting in the best interests of the citizens of the Kenai Peninsula Borough while totally ignoring the fact that the assembly did not want to violate the laws of the borough and the state of Alaska. That's a very interesting perspective. I have a different point of view.

If this is going to be a fair and open process over the next year or more, then the assembly must uphold the laws that are the basis for making this process fair and open. To do anything less violates our oath as assembly members. I regret that the Peninsula Clarion apparently fails to see this perspective.

Bill Popp is an assembly member from District One, Kenai South.

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