Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday charged Monday that comments allegedly made by Borough Mayor John Williams to Assemblywoman Milli Martin in February during a conversation about South Peninsula Hospital had implied violence against women and that Williams should consider resigning.
In a prepared statement Thursday, Williams fired back, charging the Homer mayor with abusing the privilege of his office and demanding an apology from Hornaday for staining his reputation.
The slinging match began at the tail end of Monday's Homer City Council meeting when Hornaday stated publicly that he'd spoken with Assemblywoman Milli Martin that morning about the contents of a conversation she had had with Williams on Feb. 22, a conversation covering increasingly contentious issues surrounding the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board.
According to Hornaday, Martin had told him that Williams had called to deliver a spanking.
In the world of politics, that phrase is not unheard of and normally would be interpreted as a serious vocal chastisement or perhaps a promise to thwart legislation.
Hornaday, however, put it differently, saying Martin had seen no humor in the statement, and that neither did he.
"Violence against women is a very serious matter," he said Monday, adding that he "was devastated" by what he'd learned, "and I just don't see how John can continue serving as borough mayor."
In words, the power of swords
In an interview Thursday, Martin said the way it was put to her during the February call was that Williams had phoned to "deliver a spanking." Covering a variety of issues, the conversation became "a tit for tat between the two of us," Martin said. "When I got off the phone, I was shaking."
Martin objected to the tone and notified Assembly President Ron Long, as well as Assemblywoman Deb Germano, of Homer. In a Feb. 23 e-mail, Martin told Long she was still mulling over her "chewing out" and debating how to respond, but it was clear from the note that her distress stemmed from disagreement over hospital matters, including that, to her, Williams apparently had South Peninsula Hospital matters confused with Central Peninsula Hospital.
On Feb. 24, Martin wrote Williams, saying she regretted that he had "felt compelled" to express his views as he had. She told Williams she had not appreciated the tone of his call.
"There are going to be times we are on opposite sides of the fence," she wrote, promising to continue to work with the administration. Nowhere in her communication did she mention the specific "spanking" phrase.
A few days later, Williams wrote back to Martin.
"I can understand your concern over the seriousness of my conversation with you and I will admit that I may have been somewhat harsh with you," he told her. "For that I apologize." He then went on to discuss matters Martin had raised in a Feb. 28 e-mail to him regarding the hospital.
Asked Thursday if she had interpreted the "spanking" phrase as a personal threat of physical harm, Martin said only that, "I objected to the tone and the call, period." She did say the mayor's comments had seemed geared to intimidate.
She said Hornaday's comments Monday night generally reflected her anger, but that she had not known exactly what Hornaday would say.
Williams told the Homer News last week that he had not made the remark, but in a conversation with the Clarion on Friday afternoon he clarified his response, saying he had misunderstood the reporter's question and thought it was in reference to very recent events, not a conversation held six months ago.
He said Friday he did not recall using the spanking phrase in his phone call in February, but that if he had, it would only have been meant politically.
Williams took specific issue with Hornaday's interpretation of the February conversation.
"I take personal offense at anyone's suggestion that I advocate or participate in violence against women it is outrageous and irresponsible for anyone to suggest that I would do such a thing," he said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. "Violence against women is a very serious charge and I do not take it lightly. Mayor Hornaday has abused the privilege of his office in an attempt to stain my reputation with this outlandish charge. He owes me an apology for making such a ridiculous accusation and for waiting to attack me after I left the council meeting."
Williams had been at Monday's city council meeting to discuss issues surrounding the recent decision by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to rein in the power of the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board and to answer other questions about hospital issues.
A face-to-face confrontation might have been expected. Hornaday had told the Clarion earlier in the day that he would be calling for Williams' resignation, leaving the impression at least that he would do so with Williams in the room. Instead, Hornaday waited until the end of the meeting long after Williams had departed to make his statements. He said Friday that Mayor Williams had been invited to address the council and the public and that portion of the meeting would have been an inappropriate time to say what he had to say. He also said he had been speaking for himself, not as mayor of Homer.
Williams called it unfortunate that Hornaday had put Martin "in the middle of all of this."
Flap part of larger issue
Regarding the ongoing controversy over South Peninsula Hospital and its troubled $31 million expansion project, Martin said Thursday that she was still concerned over the assembly's decision Aug. 7 to limit the powers of the hospital's elected service area board, which most significantly leaves them out of the loop entirely in upcoming negotiations of a new sublease and operating agreement between the borough and the board of directors of South Peninsula Hospital Inc.
In previous years, the service area board had been centrally involved in negotiating such contracts. But several things occurred this year that Williams said left him no choice but to bring the negotiations back into the mayor's office under direct oversight of the assembly where the ultimate authority rests in any case.
That move prompted protest from members of the service area board, the hospital administration, the city of Homer and service area residents who saw the action as a usurpation of local control. Hornaday said Friday the borough mayor and assembly had demonstrated blatant disrespect for the lower peninsula community. Martin agreed.
"It could have been handled a lot differently," she said. "I am still upset at actions taken at last Tuesday (Aug. 7) night that were contrary to the wishes of the community."
In a conversation Friday, Martin said she regretted that there would be still another newspaper story or more about the verbal flap, adding that she hoped the people involved could soon get back to business dealing with the difficult problems surrounding the hospital project.
In his statement, Williams expressed similar sentiments about putting matters to rest and focusing on putting the hospital project back on track.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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