The good news is the Kenai City Council has made a decision that will reopen the Kenai Recreation Center. The bad news is it won't be until at least October.
The center was closed July 10 after the Friends of the Kenai Recreation Center group sued the city over it issuing a management contract for the center to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula without putting it out to a competitive bid first. Judge Harold Brown issued a preliminary injunction barring the city from continuing its partnership agreement with the club, so the city closed the center's doors.
At its meeting last night, the council voted on and passed a procedure to reopen the center suggested by Kenai Mayor John Williams.
The plan involves the city's administration preparing an ordinance that would revise the city's code to specifically define what the city means by professional services. As it stands now, the code does stipulate that the city can award professional service contracts without putting them out to a competitive bid, but it does not have a definition of professional services that includes facility management. Because of that, Brown ruled the city should have put the rec center management contract out to bid.
Rewriting the code to include that definition would solve the problem, Williams said.
Once the council votes on and passed the ordinance, the city will advertise a request for qualifications (RFQ) regarding the management of the rec center. This will allow any organization interested in managing the rec center to submit a resume of sorts to the city, outlining their qualifications for the management position.
After the RFQs have been collected and reviewed, the city will pick the most qualified organization as the contractor and negotiate a facility management contract with the organization to run the center, Williams said.
The earliest this is likely to happen would be mid-October, since the council isn't interested in rushing the process, Williams said. The ordinance can be brought before the council for a first reading at its next meeting, Aug. 20, and voted on in the meeting after that, Sept. 3. If passed, the ordinance wouldn't go into effect until Oct. 1, Williams said. The city could advertise the RFQ starting Sept. 3 and select a contractor at the first council meeting after Oct. 1, which would be Oct. 15.
"People need to just be patient now that this whole thing has been brought up and the courts have been involved and the attorneys have seen fit to sue the city. All these things take time," Williams said. "We're doing it in the most expedient manner possible. If (the city) chose to file appeals, we could be at this for two years."
Friends group members disagree that the council's plan is the most expedient means to get the center open, however. The council was presented with several options regarding the center by the city's administration.
They included rewriting the code to define facility management as a professional service, putting the rec center contract out to a competitive bid, getting rid of weight room equipment in the center, leasing out the building, and hiring temporary employees to run the rec center until a more permanent decision is reached.
Mark Necessary, chair of the Friends group, said he favored the city hiring temporary rec center employees, noting that the former city rec center employees had submitted a proposal to the city offering to work at the center on an interim basis.
"I'm disappointed again tonight with what's happened. I can't believe it," he said of the council's choice of action.
Council members Amy Jackman and John "Ozzie" Osborne supported hiring temporary workers to get the center open sooner.
"I think this is going to help mend some of the fences," Jackman said. "I want to see something open there. I want the public to see we are doing something there."
Jackman suggested the council authorize hiring the former rec center employees to run the center while the code is revised and the RFQ process is under way. In a vote on the motion, Jackman and Osborne voted to hire interim workers, while Williams and council members Joe Moore, Jim Bookey, Linda Swarner and Pat Porter voted against it.
In the vote on Williams' proposal to revise the code and select a center manager through a RFQ process, Jackman and Osborne voted against it, while the other council members and Williams voted for it.
Williams said hiring interim employees at the center would only get the rec center open a few weeks earlier than his plan would, since the council still would have to pass an ordinance appropriating the money to pay the employees.
Council members who voted against hiring temporary rec center employees said they did so because they want to take their time and make sure the center is opened in accordance with the law.
"The center needs to be open if the city's going to maintain ownership of it, but I am not ready to jump quickly into opening the center because of that," Moore said. "... I don't want a quick fix. I want the solution this council decides on to be thorough."
Necessary did not agree with the council's decision.
"The judge said they broke the rules and they continue to do so," he said. "... That facility belongs to the people of Kenai. The judge agreed with us, we got the order and they'll find a way around it."
Other people associated with the Friends group spoke against the council's decision as well. Robert Molloy, an attorney in Kenai, said he prefers having the city run the center. He chastised the council for not acting on the input from the center's user groups when awarding the club the center's management contract and encouraged the council to listen to the users during the RFQ process.
It also was mentioned that anyone who bought a punch card for rec center use can have their money refunded from the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
In other action Wednesday, the council:
Passed a resolution authorizing the fire department to buy a new ambulance for $140,000 with money from the equipment replacement fund. Fire Chief Scott Walden said the department is pursuing several funding options that help pay for the ambulance.
Passed a resolution approving transferring $6,500 from the contingency repair fund to the airport terminal enterprise fund to pay for a new roof-mounted heating and air handling unit.
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