Kenai man objects to mayor's comments

City council dressed down by business leader

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2000

Prominent Kenai businessman Randy Daly gave the Kenai City Council a piece of his mind Wednesday night regarding comments that were made at the previous meeting about buying locally.

The comments, made by Mayor John Williams on Sept. 22, blasted area businesses that charge double the price for products available elsewhere.

"When they are more than double, it's out of line," Williams said during a discussion about multimedia projectors the city bought out of town.

The city passed a buy-local policy in August but chose to purchase projectors for the library and police department from out of town because they were $500 and $2,000 cheaper, respectively, than in town.

Williams said the city has a responsibility to protect taxpayers from overpriced goods.

However, the gist of Daly's comments were about how much more value the city -- and others -- get when they buy locally.

"What is value?" Daly asked. "It's a company that will be there and service what they sell."

He reminded the council of an instance a few weeks ago when city hall's multimedia projector was not working for a presentation to the council. His company, HiSpeed Gear, was called upon to service the unit and got it up and running before the meeting.

"I don't think your Anchorage supplier could beat two hours on a service call," he said.

Daly also pointed out how the police department had paid "bottom dollar" for a fax machine from an out-of-town supplier.

"When it wouldn't work, we got it running," he said.

He extended his analogy of service to include volunteer public service.

"When the city asks for volunteers, do you ask Anchorage? We provide volunteer labor for the Fourth of July and Industry Appreciation Day," he said.

He said area businesses help build ethics into people by supporting Junior Achievement and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce's Job Shadow Day.

"This is the type of value local businesses take part in," Daly said.

He spoke of volunteering his time to give tours of available land in Kenai to representatives of Princess Cruises and Cook Inlet Region Inc., who he said were interested in building hotels.

"How much more does local business have to bring to the table?" he asked.

Daly also mentioned the oft-talked about issue of luring Wal-Mart to Kenai.

"If you want to set off a neutron bomb in the center of Kenai, bring in Wal-Mart," he said. "It is the one company responsible for more bankruptcies in the U.S. They don't call it a 'category-killer' for nothing."

Despite the stern tone of Daly's address, there were indications it could have been worse.

"This is a lot nicer than when I wrote it," he said.

Williams did not respond directly to Daly's comments, but did point out the city has long been developing infrastructure to the tune of millions of dollars to lure businesses to the city.

"But private commerce has not followed public spending," he said.

Daly said he had no qualms with the amount of capital projects the city has undertaken under Williams' tenure.

"We often refer to you as our own Ted Stevens," Daly said. "You get the gold star for economic development."

Daly also took shots at the Challenger Center of Alaska, which uses 17 high-end Apple Macintosh computers, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which is on a computer-buying program for its schools. Both organizations acquired their computers from out-of-town vendors.

"They're putting 105 new computers at Nikiski High," Daly said. "If they're going to use a Dell (computer) affiliate, why not use a local one. That's me, by the way. Why buy them from Fairbanks or the Lower 48?

"How much better would it be if those dollars even made one stop in Kenai," he went on to say. "What kind of difference would it make if that money was spent here?"

Williams pointed out that the Challenger computers came with the simulator package when it was built back east and said it was good for the council to hear these kind of stories.

"It's our responsibility to be a conduit for commerce," he said.

Williams said he has plans for an economic development meeting with the city council on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall. The meeting will be open to the public.

The next regular city council meeting will not be on the third Wednesday of the month, as usual, because Alaska Day falls on Oct. 18. Instead, the council will meet the following day, Oct. 19.

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