Borough assessor, roads director asked to resign

Mayor eyes changes

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley declined to say Wednesday whether he had asked for the resignations of two department heads hired by former Mayor Mike Navarre.

However, he said he expects resignations from Jim Lawyer, the borough assessor, and Bill Dunn, the borough roads director. He hopes to fill both jobs as soon as possible.

"I resigned," said Lawyer, a 13-year borough employee who has headed the assessing department since December 1996. "I knew when I took the position that these are politically appointed positions that serve at the mayor's pleasure. That's the way it works. My last day will be July 11."

Dunn, who became roads director in September 1998, may not go so easily.

"The mayor has asked me to resign. ... He said he wanted to make a change," Dunn said. "I'm not sure I'm going to resign. At that point, he may decide to terminate me."

That could be complicated, because Dunn serves the Road Service Area board as well as the mayor.

"For the Road Service Area, termination would have to come at the recommendation of the Road Service Area board," said Richard Campbell, the borough's general services director. "It doesn't appear that the mayor could terminate the roads director without a recommendation from the board."

Borough Attorney Colette Thompson did not return a call to clarify the issue Wednesday, and Bagley, en route to Homer, could not be reached to respond to Dunn.

Sam McLane, chairman of the Road Service Area board, said he could not speak for the board and did not know whether it will discuss the issue at its July 11 meeting. Personally, he said, he would be reluctant to argue with the mayor's decision.

"As far as I understand it, the mayor was well within his rights asking for a resignation. He can do that without the concurrence of the board," he said.

The mayor hires the roads director on the recommendation of the service area board, he said. The mayor also appoints the service area board.

Dunn has done a good job, McLane said, but the job is a political appointment. "I think that for the service area residents, it's important for the board to have a good working relationship with the mayor," he said.

Dunn said that with roughly $700,000-worth of road improvement projects in the works, summer is a poor time to leave the department without a head. He said he brought the service area through two difficult winters. He played an instrumental role in obtaining Federal Emergency Management Agency aid that kept the service area solvent after heavy snows last winter.

"I think one of my major accomplishments was making the case, and having the assembly agree, that the Road Service Area needs additional money to survive," he added.

The assembly recently raised the Road Service Area tax by .5 mills and cut .5 mills from the boroughwide property tax, matching a major plank in Bagley's election campaign.

"I think I've done a good job," Dunn said. "It would be disappointing to leave at this time, because I've brought the department through difficult financial times, and it would be rewarding to make some progress with the additional funding we've been able to obtain."

After becoming borough assessor, Lawyer implemented a systematic program for assessing parcels across the borough, adding roughly $340 million in new and unreported structures in two years to the tax rolls. Sharp hikes in tax assessments drew numerous complaints this year from Cooper Landing and Seward residents. Many have appealed to the assembly as the Board of Equali-zation.

"We've also gotten a lot of compliments that people are on the rolls now," Lawyer said. "Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they're appreciative that it's equal, and that was our goal."

Bagley said he approves of Lawyer's systematic approach and expects it to continue under the next assessor.

"It gets properties on the tax rolls that haven't been there, and haven't been there for a long time," he said. "It's a fairness issue."

He said public complaints about have nothing to do with his decisions regarding Lawyer and Dunn.

"They are turning in letters of resignation, and that's all I'm going to say," he said.

Assembly member Jack Brown of Nikiski said he has nothing but good things to say about Lawyer and Dunn.

"Certainly it's the mayor's prerogative to put people in place that he's comfortable working with," Brown said. "This is like when a new governor takes over. He puts together a new team. Mayor Bagley has been slow to do that. I think he's shown some wisdom."

Lots of people expected Bagley to make a clean sweep of department heads when he stepped into office, Brown said, but the mayor moved slowly and maintained continuity.

Assembly President Bill Popp of Kenai said Lawyer has been particularly adept at working with taxpayers to resolve appeals -- to determine whether the assessor erred or the taxpayer misunderstood the process. He said Dunn has done a good job managing borough roads with a limited budget.

"I'm sorry to see these individuals go, but these are folks that work for the mayor at the pleasure of the mayor," he said. "He has the right to choose who heads his departments."

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