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Carey takes issue with bills: Mayor says ordinances undermine his authority

Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009

With just one Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting remaining to pass the fiscal year 2009-2010 budget, discussion of non-departmental funding and/or cutting services was hardly the focus of Tuesday's meeting.

Most of the discussion -- and contention -- surrounded three ordinances, which Borough Mayor Dave Carey said would undermine his ability to govern effectively.

Ordinance 2009-31, which would put a proposition on the October ballot for voters to choose whether they want a manager to run the borough or continue to have a mayor with that power, was introduced after having been removed from the consent agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

"This ordinance circumvents everything we stand for and everything we've done," said Soldotna resident Norm Blakeley. He said if the people aren't satisfied with the mayor they can vote in a new person in the following election.

Blakeley said there's no need to have this ballot proposition in the middle of Carey's term.

Victoria Pate, of Nikiski, said there should be a list of qualifications for the proposed manager position. She said the change of government would give the assembly the power to make all decisions.

"I don't believe it's in the best interest of the borough," said Kenai resident Curtis Pennington.

"People are taking this personally and they shouldn't," said Assemblyman Gary Knopp.

Knopp said he introduced the ordinance because it was a matter that was brought up by his constituents.

"It's nothing against this administration," Knopp said.

Assemblyman Charlie Pierce, like Blakeley, said he was concerned about the timing of this proposal. He said it should be brought up at the end of Carey's term.

"Let's do it right," Pierce said.

"There's really nothing to clean up," Knopp said. It's just a simple question for the voters.

Mayor Carey said after just seven months of his three-year term, this idea would remove him from power.

"I think the timing is unfortunate to say the least," he said.

Carey said the ordinance in question puts him in a difficult managerial position as all his employees are aware of this attempt to oust him from his current duties, which prevents him from doing the best job he can.

After assembly comments, there was confusion about whether or not the ordinance was introduced. After a brief suspension of the meeting, Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship confirmed that Assemblyman Ron Long did move to introduce the ordinance and set it for public hearing and asked for unanimous consent. It was determined no objections were made against the request for unanimous approval.

Public hearings on the ordinance are scheduled for June 16 and July 7. The ordinance must be passed by Aug. 4 to appear on the upcoming October ballot.

Mayor Carey said Ordinance 2009-23, designating certain administrative employees as upper management and providing for disciplinary and termination appeal procedures, also would undermine his ability to govern properly.

"This ordinance is more than micromanaging," Carey said. "It removes my right to have loyal, able and competent staff."

He said limits need to be imposed on which positions the assembly can protect by moving them into the upper-management category.

Prior to passing the ordinance, the mayor could hire and dismiss borough personnel at will. The assembly only confirmed the mayor's choice for director positions but had no authority over dismissals of those positions.

Since passing, the employee can now appeal the decision within 14 days of notice from the mayor and present his or her case to a disciplinary appeal board made up of three assembly members.

Most upper management positions consist of administrative personnel who are directors of borough departments.

Should the ordinance pass, Carey said it would remove his ability to reduce pay for, suspend, demote and/or dismiss borough employees. He said if an upper-management borough employee made the right friends on the assembly, they'd never lose their job.

Assemblyman Gary Superman, sponsor of the ordinance, said though he's unhappy that Carey has terminated several employees, it is his prerogative to hire and fire borough workers. However, Superman said the assembly should have some say in the hiring and dismissal of certain positions.

The assembly is supposed to operate as the policy makers and the administration is supposed to enforce those policies, Superman said.

"In a sense, we've been subjected to operating in a bit of a void," he said. Superman said this ordinance brings equality back to the assembly, acting as a check and balance on the mayor.

Long said borough employees may serve at the pleasure of the mayor and enjoy appropriations made by the assembly, but they work for the people.

"Their loyalty lies and serves with the public," he said.

"You can read as many conspiracies into this as you like or as few," Long said. "I don't see anything more than what's before me here."

Assemblyman Bill Smith, of Homer, said he sees this ordinance as an issue of appeal rights. He said it's a "wild exaggeration" to see it as an attack on the mayor.

"It just gives people an appeal process," Smith said.

Not all assembly members agreed with Smith.

"This sets a bad precedent for this mayor and future mayors," Pierce said. He said any employee who feels they were wrongfully terminated could hire a lawyer and fight the issue.

The ordinance passed on a 7-2 vote with assembly members Fischer and Pierce opposed.

Carey, too, took issue with Ordinance 2009-24, requiring job qualifications and descriptions for certain administrative positions be approved by the assembly and that vacancies for such positions be publicly advertised prior to being filled.

"I'm the only person elected by everyone to serve everyone," Carey said. "I'm the one that looks out for everyone in all areas."

He said this would put more restrictions on him as a mayor.

Assembly Vice President Pete Sprague, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said it focuses on non-union, middle and upper-management positions. Many of those jobs don't have written qualifications.

"Revising the code to require assembly approval of job descriptions, qualifications and public advertising of certain administrative positions would help to ensure borough residents of an open, public process where high standards are maintained, the most qualified candidates are hired to serve the public and that all qualified candidates have an opportunity to apply for open positions," the ordinance reads. "The job descriptions and the qualifications for all administrative positions must be approved by the assembly by resolution."

Smith, the other co-sponsor, said when approving positions it's natural to ask, "What are the qualifications?"

Requiring the mayor to advertise before filling the position adds more transparency to the process, Sprague said.

The ordinance passed on a 7-2 vote with Fischer and Pierce opposing.

The assembly unanimously voted to postpone action on Ordinance 2009-19, appropriating funds for fiscal year 2009-2010. The next meeting, which will mainly focus on the budget, will be held June 2 in the assembly chambers in Soldotna at 7 p.m.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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