The Kenai City Council has initiated the first step of its three-part plan to reopen the Kenai Recreation Center and is asking for the public's input before moving on to the next step.
In its Aug. 6 meeting, the council decided on the course of action they intend to follow to get the center open again. The plan includes voting on an ordinance that will revise the city's code to specifically define what the city means by professional services, advertising a request for qualifications (RFQ) regarding the management of the rec center if and when the ordinance is passed, and then reviewing the RFQs and picking the most qualified organization as the contractor to run the rec center.
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.
According to its code, the city doesn't have to use a competitive bidding process for contracting out professional services and it considered facility management as a professional service.
Judge Harold Brown did not agree, however, since the city's code did not specifically define facility management as a professional service, so he issued a preliminary injunction barring the city from continuing its partnership agreement with the club. As a result, the city closed the center's doors.
In its Wednesday meeting, the council held a public hearing on the ordinance that will add a definition of professional services to the code and specifically include "facilities management" in a list of other professional services, like engineering, architectural and medical services. Before it votes on the ordinance, however, the council decided to allow the public to submit suggestions for revisions to the ordinance for the council to consider.
As it was presented to the council, the text of the ordinance calls for amending the Kenai Municipal Code "to better describe and clarify the meaning of 'contractual services of a professional nature.'" If the ordinance is passed the way it is now, the code would be modified to include this definition: "those advisory, consulting, architectural, management, engineering, res-earch or development services that involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment together with an advanced or specialized knowledge, expertise or training gained by formal studies or experience" and a list of examples of those services.
During the public hearing, Robert Molloy, a Kenai attorney who has been involved with the Friends group, said the ordinance was not specific enough and should include some procedural requirements for awarding professional service contracts and a clause that allows the city's administration to request competitive proposals, as well.
"It's really, really broad," he said. "Because it's broad it allows the city to contract out a heck of a lot of services and that brings up issues of insider trading and the issue of appearances (and) of public trust."
City Attorney Carey Graves said in drafting this ordinance he looked at similar ordinances other government bodies have. Those ordinances follow a spectrum from very strict to very relaxed. The one he chose as a model was selected because he thought it worked best for the council's plan to reopen the rec center, but modifications could be made to it, he said.
After listening to Molloy's comments, Kenai Mayor John Williams suggested the council invite the public to submit all suggested changes to the ordinance in writing so the council can consider them before voting on the matter. He also suggested the suggestions only be accepted through Wednesday.
"The longer we fool around with this thing, the longer the rec center will stay closed," he said.
The council will hold another public hearing on the ordinance at its Sept. 3 meeting. Anyone interested in submitting a suggested revision to the ordinance can do so to the city clerk at Kenai City Hall, 210 Fidalgo Ave., by Wednesday. Copies of the proposed ordinance can be obtained at city hall as well.
In other action Wednesday, the council:
Decided to postpone voting on whether to approve the Kenai Comprehensive Plan until Nov. 5 so local Native and other groups interested in the plan have time to review it and suggest any changes they would like to see made.
Voted unanimously to spend $35,000 from the airport terminal enterprise fund to buy boilers for the terminal to replace one that is leaking.
Voted unanimously to spend $6,000 from the airport terminal enterprise fund to pay for modifications to the handicap lift.
Voted unanimously to award a contract to United Fire Service Inc. for a new Ford F-450 ambulance.
Voted unanimously to accept a federal grant that will pay for the city's planning department to attend Section 106 training, which relates to historic areas.
Voted unanimously to award a $30,850 bid to Preferred Plumbing and Heating to replace the leaky boiler and do a heating system upgrade at the airport.
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