A court order issued Thursday puts a stop to the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula managing the Kenai Recreation Center for the city of Kenai for the time being, and consequently results in the temporary closure of the center starting today.
A partnership agreement between the club and city, which went into effect July 1, contracts the club to run the rec center and Teen Center. The Friends of the Recreation Center group formed in opposition to the partnership agreement filed suit against the city to keep that contract from continuing.
The group took the city to court Tuesday before Judge Harold Brown seeking a preliminary injunction to that effect. The group's attorney, John Havelock of the Anchorage firm Ely and Havelock, argued the city violated its municipal code by giving the rec center management contract to the club without putting the contract out to a competitive bidding process first.
The city argued in response that the rec center management contract is a professional service which doesn't need to be competitively bid.
Brown sided with the plaintiffs and issued the preliminary injunction Thursday.
"I'm pleased that Judge Brown agreed that the city has to follow its own code for competitive bidding, it's pretty simple," said Mark Necessary, chair of the Friends group.
"Needless to say, we're happy to see that."
Kenai City Manager Linda Snow said the city's administration plans to schedule an executive session with the city council at its first meeting in August to analyze the situation and discuss whether to file an appeal.
"We respect Judge Brown immensely, but we also respectfully disagree with his decision," Snow said.
Until the city's administration has a chance to meet with the club's management and with the council and the city decides on a course of action, the center will be closed for an as-yet undetermined amount of time that could stretch into weeks.
"One thing we obviously have to do is close the center temporarily while we figure out what to do," Snow said. "... We will have to close temporarily so we can meet and talk about that. In the meantime, I believe that we must close by order of the court."
In his ruling, Brown wrote that the city code does not define the term "services of a professional nature." The state of Alaska does define the term, but in such a way that does not cover the management of a facility, he decided.
"While there is some visceral appeal to the argument that the city should be allowed to decide whether or not the services required are professional, the good intentions of the city manager and the compelling circumstances reflected in her affidavit are not enough to demonstrate a reasonable basis for the classification of the services to be provided as professional," Brown wrote.
The order encourages the parties to discuss some kind of arrangement that would allow the club to keep managing the center pending whatever action is decided upon to resolve the case, but does not designate any specific action the city should follow in the interim.
That leaves the city with a decision as to what to do. Snow said the city's administration will discuss the matter with the council.
"There's lots of ways to go here," she said. "(The order) is not very definitive in terms of what to do, so we have a lot of options that are there."
However, it may take a while to reach a decision and implement it.
"You can't just turn this ship around in one day," she said. "This took us months to get to this point. ... There's just so many options out there. That isn't something that can happen quickly. We have to take steps."
The plaintiffs are awaiting the opportunity to talk about the situation with the city.
"(The city) is encouraged to discuss it with us, so a discussion should be forthcoming," Havelock said. "I would hope this time the city will be willing to listen and not get hung up on this proposal with the Boys and Girls Club and look at what's best for the city."
According to Snow, the city did do what's best for the city in approving the contract with the club.
"(The club) are professional facility managers, we didn't want just anybody to run that building," she said.
"Do we just want the low bidder in there? No. We asked and answered all those questions before we took the actions that we did. We don't want to do anything that's merely a sham. It's doing the right thing, and that is what our goal is for the community, and it isn't just the lower-cost thing."
Friends group members and other community members do not agree that the Boys and Girls Club partnership was the way to go. Some people have taken to showing their displeasure since the management change took place by making harassing calls to the center, hanging inappropriate signs, strewing garbage around and committing other acts of vandalism, Snow said.
"People have to agree to disagree so I think there's no reason for this kind of viciousness," Snow said. "... I have tremendous respect for that organization, for the Boys and Girls Club putting themselves on the line like that, and do you know why they did that? Just for the good of the community."
Necessary said he didn't know anything about the vandalism.
"I'm sure it's not any of our group," he said. "They're all well-respected citizens of Kenai."
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