Assemblyman says mayor needs help

Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010

As the mayor finalizes plans to reshuffle personnel within his office, a Kenai Peninsula Borough assemblyman is proposing an initiative that could significantly reduce any Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor's power.

Charlie Pierce, of Sterling, said this week that he intends to call for a ballot initiative that would reduce the mayor to an almost ceremonial position, while a borough manager would handle most of the borough's day-to-day business operations.

Pierce said he has lost his confidence in Carey, particularly after the mayor proposed a budget that would have dipped $7 million into the borough's fund balance.

"My level of confidence in his ability to make day-to-day business decisions has changed," Pierce said. "Some of the things he campaigned on I agreed with. I was looking for a smaller, more efficient, government. He made some attempts to take that on and make that happen, but this year he's gone in a totally different direction."

Pierce called Carey's leadership "almost comical."

"He wants to cater to everybody's needs. You need a leader to look at what we can do versus what we want to do and then strike a balance," Pierce said. "I don't think the mayor is capable of achieving that balance.

"We need some intelligence over there, and I think we are challenged for that right now."

The borough manager idea is not new.

Assemblyman Gary Knopp, of Kalifornsky, proposed an ordinance last year that would have allowed voters to choose between a mayor and a manager. After months of discussion, the assembly, including Pierce, voted against the ordinance, 5-4.

"I think the timing is bad," Pierce said during last year's debates on the issue. "It's bad policy. I think what we've got works."

But Pierce has had a change of heart after monitoring Carey's administration over the past year.

"Based on what I see today I've redirected my priorities here. We elect a man or a woman to run our borough, and if they lack a good strong business background they can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time," Pierce said.

Though Carey was offended when the manager versus mayor debate arose last year, he has since warmed up to the discussion. In April, Carey even called to put the issue up for a 2010 ballot vote, which is exactly what Pierce's ordinance will propose.

"I think this is the correct time to do it," Carey said this week. "I think putting it out to a vote to the people is wise."

Carey said he took last year's debate a little more personally.

"It was about four months into my first year," Carey said. "I found that there would be the potential to undermine my ability to be the mayor because it was so soon into my term."

Knopp said he will co-sponsor the latest borough manager initiative along with Pierce.

"When I introduced it initially, I thought it was a valid question for the voters," Knopp said. "We are so large that you need to have a good professional person managing the borough. The job is really too large for one individual. You've got the business aspect and you've got the public relations aspect."

The borough manager would be a hired position, working for the assembly. The manager would assume the chief administrator duties currently delegated to the mayor. That includes: hiring and dismissing borough employees, supervising the enforcement of laws and preparing the budget.

Pierce's ordinance will be introduced at the assembly's July 6 meeting. If a ballot initiative were approved by the voters, it would not be effective until the end of Carey's term in 2011.

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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