By Heidi Zemach for SCN
The first Seward City Council meeting of the year should have been memorable for the city’s decision to form an ad-hoc citizen’s recreation committee to look into establishing a new form of community recreation for the town such as a new pool, a bowling alley or skating rink—on the very day that the spanking new $10 million Community Library Museum opened to the public.
Or it could have been noted for the council and administration agreeing that the city electric department’s proposed amendments to the city’s code of ordinances providing for the interconnection of small renewable energy sources to the city’s electric distribution system, is so lengthy, confusing, and inherently contradictory, that it should be greatly revised, or tossed out altogether, and recreated from scratch, after numerous months of procedural postponements.
The meeting could have been about how council member Ristine Casagranda decided to withdraw her controversial (anti fluoride) ordinance “establishing criteria for substances added to public drinking water for purposes unrelated to potability,” because council member Marianna Keil had proposed that a compromise be sought to provide an alternative to public water fluoridation months ago.
The focus could also have been the acceptance of a resolution amending the city’s 2012-13 Biennial Budget to reflect mid-cycle budget changes, setting the mill rate at current levels, and appropriating funds. Or even about the professionalization of the Seward Police force: i.e. how Seward Police Officer James Rouleau was awarded Advance Certification by the Alaska Police Standards Council, so that now 60 percent of the police force have achieved that most advanced level of training and certification possible. Or how head KPD 911 dispatcher Phyllis Baker was given an award, kind words and hugs of appreciation for her 18 years of outstanding service to the town and KPD upon her retirement, and how Chief Tom Clemons received high commendations for professionalism by Kevin Smith, Executive Director of Alaska Municipal League’s Joint Insurance Association.
All that DID happen, it’s true.
But what really stood out about the meeting, was how it spiraled into the absurd and stayed bizarre for 10-20 minutes late Monday night, as Mayor David Seaward aired his differences with the council and City Manager Jim Hunt that had been simmering beneath the surface for the past nine months or more. Seaward said he’d been deliberately kept uninformed on important matters of the city, such as visits by important Alaska dignitaries: “When it comes to openness in government, I’m the last one to know. When dignitaries come to city I’m the last one to know.”
Hunt and council members countered that the mayor had, for more than a year refused to attend weekly pre-set appointments to meet and talk with the city manager in person, but rather had resorted to calling his secretary for weekly updates that had not been forthcoming. Councilwoman Christy Terry pleaded with the mayor to cease playing that “game,” and to become more proactive in directly seeking the information he desires, as she does. Assistant City Manger Ron Long said believe it or not, many dignitaries do not announce their visits to Seward in advance, and that if Seaward wished to be informed of ongoing city management issues at a higher level, he should spell that out, and seek council agreement at a meeting that he be so notified. Shafer said the mayors actions had made Seward “the laughing stock of Alaska.”
The strangest of numerous exchanges came when Terry told the mayor: “It is not a conspiracy, it is not a conspiracy. I swear to God it is not a conspiracy.
and he replied, “Then why are you saying it is a conspiracy?”
Or this final exchange with Shafer: “Please meet with the city manager weekly, please.”
Mayor: “It’s always about me isn’t it? It’s always about me.”
The brouhaha began with language in an agenda discussion item, proposed by the mayor, that Terry said was inflammatory. Seaward had proposed discussing an investigation into the “possible impropriety of conduct” in releasing to The Seward Journal, owned by Shafer, an editorial penned by City Attorney Cheryl Brooking on how she and the city viewed the progress of an ongoing lawsuit by RBCA against the City of Seward, dated April 23, 2012. Seaward had repeatedly raised his concerns over the public release of the letter, and whether its imminent release was made public during an open meeting, or whether the decision had come about in executive session. Council members, administration, and the city attorney all had insisted the letter was in fact public information, and that there were no improprieties, although this reporter notes other local news outlets had not been notified of its existence prior to its publication in the Journal. The issue was considered over, however, and council members hoped to put the matter behind them in order to move on to other matters following the conclusion of the lawsuit, and payment of the non-profit public interest law firm Trustees for Alaska’s legal fees. Brooking lost her temper after hearing the mayor’s list of questions concerning the issue, and his citations related to each of his conerns, saying repeatedly that it wasn’t fair of him to spring that, without having let her know he was going to do so when she spoke to him on Friday. “I will tell you there was no wrong doing until now. That was unfair,” she said.
The only support the mayor received last night came from Casagranda, who offered to accompany Seaward on any future visits to the city manager, as she too feels “left out of the loop” on important city matters, such as harbor developments at SMIC.
The meeting adjourned abruptly at 10:30 p.m. due to rules that mandate that meetings end at that time. It ended in an equally unruly manner, with resident Tim McDonald at the podium during Citizen’s Comments demanding more time to air his views. His time was shorted by about two or three minutes of the five minutes allotted, and because of this, the meeting was continued to noon today.
McDonald had already spoken at length during the earlier Citizens Comments period on his desire that the city fund a study of alternate locations for harbor development across the bay, for comparison purposes, rather than focusing all of its efforts on improving the harbor at Seward Marine Industrial Center, which he believes in less suitable. He also had given a report on Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association as its city representative.