Kenai loses court appeal

Management decision on rec center costs city in fees

Posted: Thursday, March 02, 2006

Controversy over Kenai’s decision to turn over management of its recreation center to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula died down more than two years ago, but the city has once again found itself on the losing side of a court decision on the issue.

The city had appealed Kenai Superior Court Judge Harold Brown’s ruling that the city should pay “reasonable attorney’s fees” to the public interest group known as Friends of the Recreation Center Inc., which claimed Kenai violated its own municipal code by giving a management contract to Boys and Girls Clubs.

The contract was awarded in 2003 without being put out for bid, as required by Kenai statute.

The city contended its code exempted the management contract from the bidding process because it was for a service “of a professional nature.”

Such services, specified in the code as “engineering, architectural and medical services,” do not require the city to solicit bids from at least three potential contractors.

Brown’s court disagreed with the city, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Friends of the Recreation Center.

Kenai appealed.

On Feb. 17, the Supreme Court of the state of Alaska denied the appeal and affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling.

Representing the Friends group, Anchorage attorney John Havelock was awarded $20,000 in the lower court and is seeking $14,000 for the appeal, plus $1,000 in court costs, Havelock said Wednesday.

In addition to ordering payment of attorney’s fees, “the court went out of its way to affirm Judge Brown’s ruling that the city had misinterpreted its own ordinance,” Havelock said.

“I’m a former public official myself, and I was deeply disappointed that the city did not recognize its own mistake,” he said.

Havelock also said he wrote to the city several times, attempting unsuccessfully to resolve the matter without going to court.

“I do not like to see public money wasted,” he said.

When the city first announced plans to award the management contract to the Boys and Girls Clubs, high school students who frequented the Teen Center on the second floor of the facility feared new managers would force them to comply with stricter rules and make them join in Boys and Girls Club programs.

After the city amended its code and awarded a legal contract to the Boys and Girls Clubs, the teens found their fears to be unfounded.

Many said they liked the improvements made by Boys and Girls Clubs, including bringing in new furniture, recovering pool tables, adding booths donated by Arby’s Restaurant and conducting monthly dances for the youth.

City attorney Cary Graves said while he does not agree with the Supreme Court decision, “We certainly will abide by it. We have no intention to be disrespectful.

“Overall, the program to privatize the rec center has been successful,” he said. “Over the past two years, we’ve saved probably a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

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