Up for debate: Assembly discusses manager; mayor's veto stands

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

After much discussion surrounding the proposed multi-use facility and changing to a manager form of government, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to put both topics on hold until its next meeting.

Seward Assemblyman Ron Long said Ordinance 2009-31, which would give voters a chance to decide whether the borough mayor should continue to run the administration or give a manager that power, is not an assembly decision that would change government. Rather, "This is a question on whether or not to put this item on the ballot," he said.

After much public comment criticizing the assembly for even proposing the ordinance, Assemblyman Gary Knopp, sponsor of the bill, said he is solely responsible for introducing the ordinance. He again reiterated that the ordinance was brought up because his constituents asked him to.

"This is not any attempt to unseat the mayor," Knopp said. "I've stated clearly, this was never about our current mayor. It's simply a ballot question."

Long then proposed three amendments to the ordinance, changing the language, so should the voters choose to switch to a borough manger form of government, that change wouldn't take place until 2011, after current Borough Mayor Dave Carey's term has ended.

"The amendment is nothing more than an attempt to save a bad policy," said Assemblyman Charlie Pierce. He said the mayor or manager would have the same power, but the way they gain that power is much different.

Should the assembly approve the ordinance and voters pass the measure, the borough mayor's role would change significantly.

The manager would become the chief administrator instead of the mayor. The mayor would not have the authority to run the administration.

The borough manager would be a hired position, working for the assembly. The manager would be in charge of hiring and dismissing borough employees, supervising enforcement of laws, preparing the budget -- essentially taking over all current responsibilities of the mayor.

"I want to vote on my next mayor," Pierce said.

He said he thinks the assembly would have difficulty agreeing on who would be best for the job of borough manager.

Long's amendments passed on an 8-1 vote.

After an attempt by Assemblyman Paul Fischer to table the ordinance failed, Assembly Vice President Pete Sprague moved to postpone it until the July 7 meeting.

Fischer said should the question appear on the October ballot, it will create uncertainty in the borough. He said it's too soon to vote on it and moved to postpone action until September, making it impossible to appear on the October ballot.

All ordinances containing ballot measures must be passed by August 4 to appear on the October ballot.

After a short reprieve, Sprague withdrew his motion and Fischer moved to have the question appear on the October 2010 ballot at the regular borough election. That motion failed on a 6-3 vote.

Knopp then made a motion to again push action back on the ordinance to the July meeting.

"We need more public input," he said.

That motion passed on an 8-1 vote.

Should voters approve the change, the assembly would have 60 days to form a management plan. A borough manager would have to be approved by a majority vote of the assembly.

Ordinance 2009-32, establishing a Central Peninsula Multi-use Facility Service Area, was also postponed until the July meeting.

Much of the public comment focused on the current economic recession and poor timing to add taxes to borough residents. Some Nikiski residents were concerned about paying more taxes for another multi-use facility, as they already have the North Peninsula Recreation Center, supported by a service area tax.

There was next to no assembly discussion on the matter. Sprague moved to postpone action and it passed unanimously.

The ordinance would create a service area to fund construction and operation of an indoor, recreation facility.

The question would read: "Shall the Kenai Peninsula Borough be authorized to exercise powers to construct, maintain and operate a multi-use facility to accommodate sport activities and events, recreational wellness opportunities, academic, cultural and entertainment activities and services in the Central Peninsula Multi-use Facility Service Area within the service area boundaries?"

The proposed boundary lines for the service area would mirror those for the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area.

After the postponement vote passed, Assemblyman Gary Superman moved to override Carey's veto of Ordinance 2009-23, designating certain administrative employees as upper management and providing for disciplinary and termination appeal procedures.

Carey vetoed the ordinance two weeks ago, saying it would undermine his ability to effectively govern.

Calling the bill a micromanaging effort by the assembly, Carey said limits need to be imposed on which positions the assembly can protect by moving them into the upper-management category.

During the meeting, Carey said, "One branch (of government) should not restrict the other branch. I believe Ordinance 2009-23 crosses the line."

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 on a 7-2 vote at the May 19 meeting, an employee can now appeal a 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.

"Giving three assembly members absolute authority binding on the administration without the ability to appeal that decision to the full assembly seems problematic," Carey said. "The intensions and motivations of each side have been twisted out of shape and misrepresented."

Assemblyman Bill Smith, of Homer, said he understands many people come into borough employment via "the political spoil system," however, "the question is how deep do we want to see the political spoil system go?" he asked.

Pierce, who was against overriding the veto, said, "It creates another level of bureaucracy."

Knopp, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said he may have erred in that decision. In reference to all of the employees Carey has fired, he said the mayor isn't abusing his power, but exercising it.

Superman, on the other hand, said many of the ex-borough employees Carey's fired are irreplaceable. Though he understands that it's the mayor's prerogative to make changes, Carey has gone too far.

"I've never seen a mayor come in and make the changes we've seen the last six months," he said. "I don't want to see anymore of our directors lost."

Superman said he's spoken to many of the former employees and hasn't received a good reason for why Carey let them go.

The veto override, which needed six votes to pass, failed on a 5-4 vote.

Though Assembly President Milli Martin supported the veto, she said she plans to work on the ordinance, make the necessary changes to it and bring it back in front of the assembly within 30 days.

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

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