Win-win project loses

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

What was described by one Kenai City Councilman as a "win, win, win" project, lost Wednesday night after the councilman was declared to have a conflict of interest and only two voting members supported his plan.

Driven by an expressed need for storage space at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, Councilman Mike Boyle, who also runs the school district's Workforce Development Center, offered to have his students build a 16- by 24-foot permanent storage building for the city behind the visitors center.

Boyle said he envisioned the project being a win for the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau, which manages the visitors center, a win for the workforce development center and a win for the city.

Even though Boyle would not be deriving any direct income from the city for the project, and his students provide free labor in exchange for the opportunity to learn building trades, Mayor Pat Porter declared Boyle to have a conflict of interest.

City Attorney Cary Graves said Boyle had a conflict of interest according to city code, because as a paid employee of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, he "benefited indirectly" from the expenditure of city funds for building materials.

Boyle's and City Manager Rick Koch's cost estimates for materials were both at approximately $9,000.

The issue arose two weeks ago when a big, red Conex box showed up behind the visitors center.

City officials learned the KCVB staff had rented the 40-foot steel container to store unused display cases in order to make room for the center's reopening gala reception. The center had been closed for four months over the winter while a new heating system was installed in the city-owned building.

In the past, several elected city officials have expressed their displeasure with Conexes being used as storage sheds around town.

Boyle, whose students recently built new women's locker room facilities at the city's Multipurpose Facility, came up with a plan.

He said the Workforce Development students could build the storage shed with roof lines and exterior finish to match the visitors center building.

Speaking in support of Boyle's plan Wednesday night, KCVB Executive Director Natasha Ala said, "We encourage you to move forward with this much needed project," adding the visitors center did not need to have lights or heat in the storage building.

"Most of the items being stored are city property," she said.

In a memo to the council, Koch said he was unclear as to what Ala meant by "the city's vast collection of non-sensitive exhibit items and and display units," when she wrote to him about the need for storage space.

Councilman Rick Ross asked whether the city has available storage space the visitors bureau could use, and Koch said the city shops would be a most logical place. He said he would look into it.

Councilman Hal Smalley said he did not have a problem with a nicely designed storage building being built at the visitors center and Councilman Bob Molloy said the project also helps the city continue its support of the high school students.

Smalley's and Molloy's votes, however, were the only ones in favor of the project.

Mayor Porter and councilmen Ross, Joe Moore and Barry Eldridge voted against it.

Later in the council meeting, some councilmen and Koch agreed it is time to revisit the lease arrangement the city has with the visitors and convention bureau.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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