In a region as large and diverse as the Kenai Peninsula Borough, good communication from government administrators and elected officials plays a key role in getting things done. But lately, Mayor Dale Bagley seems to be taking one step forward and two steps back on several contentious issues.
After running into a road block from the mayor's office and his legal staff over plans for the borough to pay for a trip to Juneau by a group of peninsula parents lobbying for school funds, the borough assembly recently reversed the mayor's action denying funds for the parents' trip.
After being denied the previously approved travel tickets, some parents found a sympathetic ear at the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Armed with an opinion from an APOC staff member indicating that limited lobbying would not be a legal problem, the assembly decided this month that it was a legitimate expenditure of public funds and put the parents' trip in a $10,000 package of expenses for lobbying initially approved in January.
To be fair, the mayor had apparently been acting based on concerns over the legality of whether the 11 parents and two students who had planned to go would fall under restrictions requiring registration as lobbyists. And there's the legitimate concern over when tax money should be paying for lobbying at all.
While it's wise and responsible to make sure public funds are being properly used by private individuals the confusion over the trip left a bad taste.
In a separate issue, Bagley's plan to fund a $75,000 study to assess the feasibility of a fast ferry to make daily trips across Kachemak Bay was deep-sixed by the assembly. The idea was either premature or not well grounded in local support. While the city of Seldovia backed the general idea of a study of better across-bay transportation, officials there say the idea came from Bagley's office. Seldovia officials say they first learned about a March 12 hearing from newspaper reporters, not the borough.
After Seldovia City Manager Ken Weaver spoke at the hearing, the assembly agreed that while the idea of a broad study of transportation issues might be pursued in the near future, it was too soon to commit $75,000 to study the ferry issue alone.
Seldovia and other communities across the bay are faced with real economic problems tied to erratic transportation to jobs or markets. So working to improve transportation is a commendable idea. It seems, however that the mayor needs to bring local residents on board earlier in the planning stages.
Bagley's communication difficulties these days are something of a surprise given the success of his efforts to create a Cook Inlet salmon brand. Although he is not a fisher, Bagley heard about the idea and latched on, then worked enthusiastically with fishers, processors and, perhaps most important, the borough assembly to secure funding. Because of its broad reach, the Cook Inlet program is touted in Juneau as a model of how to establish a salmon brand.
Obviously, Bagley has had to set aside some of his political differences and build coalitions to get the salmon-branding program this far, this fast. If only the mayor could put the same energy into working with the assembly and other elements of his constituency, he might have more success in solving the issues facing the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
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