City workers sue over department cutbacks

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The union representing city mental health workers facing termination sued the City and Borough of Juneau and its city manager on Friday.

The lawsuit alleges City Manager Dave Palmer violated Juneau's charter when he decided to gut the Health and Social Services Department, get rid of the department personnel and move its clients to private agencies, said Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association business agent Greg O'Claray.

The charter forbids establishing, altering or abolishing a municipal department without first passing an ordinance.

''Was somebody asleep at the manager's office?'' O'Claray asked.

The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Juneau also claims the decision to discontinue services including chemical dependency programs, mental health treatment and family and individual counseling was made in a closed meeting contrary to the Open Meetings Act.

A decision to stop the city's involvement in mental health services was reached at a Juneau Assembly executive session earlier this year, O'Claray said.

''We call it the 'secret Wednesday night massacre' and it clearly ran counter to the Open Meetings Act,'' O'Claray said.

Palmer said he had not seen the brief. But he said his office was meeting with the union to insure a smooth transition.

''Sounds to me like MEBA wants us to pass an ordinance,'' Palmer said, ''Heck, we pass ordinances every two weeks.''

Palmer said he thought there would be sufficient support on the assembly to pass the required ordinance.

The suit seeks an injunction requiring Palmer and city staff to halt the department changes in the absence of lawful enactment of such an ordinance.

The suit also asks for legal notice of any meeting contemplating an ordinance that would alter the Health and Social Services Department.

City Attorney John Corso said he could not comment on the suit because he had not had time to review it.

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