Emotions Flare up at First Council Meeting of Year

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

Council before it got rowdy (Heidi Zemach photo)

Council before it got rowdy (Heidi Zemach photo)

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.

Officer receiving advanced certification James Rouleau with Sgt Dorene Valadez, Lt. Louis Tiner

Officer receiving advanced certification James Rouleau with Sgt Dorene Valadez, Lt. Louis Tiner

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.”

Bob Valdatta, Mayor David Seaward and Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson. (Heidi Zemach photo)

Bob Valdatta, Mayor David Seaward and Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson. (Heidi Zemach photo)



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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.

 

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33 Comments

  1. I see the makings of a new TV reality show.

  2. I think that we should try and sell this concept. What a great reality show it would make. We’ve got disfunctional gold miners, addicted interventions, fishing fiascos, and other craziness.

    I can see it now. “Seward Alaska – Inharmonious Incorporated”

    Maybe we can get a cut of the advertising revenue…Discovery Channel here we come!

  3. Great minds think alike :)

  4. Kudos to our local police force!

  5. Kathleen Christenson says:

    …equally confusing is this inflammatory,convoluted soup masquerading as a “news article”. A blatantly biased agenda oozes out of virtually every piece that this particular reporter submits. Personal blogs and Facebook-flavored rants have their proper place….perhaps elsewhere on the web.
    A “Journalists’ Code of Ethics” refresher,as well as a review of the elements of sentence structure wouldn’t hurt.

    • To be fair, this is just a blog. I wouldn’t expect balanced articles here.

      Any time someone uses the word “claims” it intentionally paints the speaker in a dubious light.

      As a matter of course, the mayor should be kept in the loop on all of the points of contention that are constantly brought up by the council.

      Instead, we see this childish finger pointing over and over again.

      • I urge John and Kathleen to watch the video of this particular meeting, if you did not watch it live, and then say that what I wrote didn’t happen. As a journalist (not a blogger) I try to keep my personal views out of my writing as much as possible, but then again, if reporters don’t call a spade a spade, who will inform the people? (Heidi)

        • Christy Terry says:

          Everyone who is interested in listening to the actual meeting should buy the tapes from the City of Seward’s Clerk. Then they should listen to the meeting, specially the part where the Mayor calls himself the Executive Officer of the City of Seward, or the Mayor’s report when other Council Members provided the facts against the misinformation he gave to the TRAILS group. It takes much time and effort to learn about local government, so working from ignorance doesn’t help what needs to get done. Having a privileged expectation is not what being on Council is about. It’s about working with other people and not causing dissention, but having the skills and leadership ability to get people to work together for the benefit of Seward. I totally agree that having this at a Council Meeting was a joke and would like point out that the Mayor put the item on the agenda for discussion. He just didn’t like that it put the focus on his behavior. If you don’t think that Council Members or the City Manager have the ‘Freedom’ in this nation to defend ourselves against inflammatory allegations made for political gain, then you don’t live in the same democracy that I do. I think the Mayor can use his position to benefit Seward and I am certainly looking forward to that possibility.

          Also, I am sorry that you didn’t think the other items on the agenda that night were of note or very memorable, I certainly did. BTW- that’s the quote I get? Really? There were much better quotes to choose from, but I guess if you are trying to discredit a side you will take quotes out of context. AND it is a blog when the writers of stories feel free to argue back with the readers. Just sayin’.

          I’ll let my record as a public servant stand against any slanted news story.

          • What would it take to get the video (or even just an audio copy) of the meeting uploaded to the city website. Would we need to purchase a digital camcorder or other technology?
            The best disinfectant is sunshine, so the best way to involve Sewardites would be to make access to the Council meetings as easy as possible, and with today’s technology this shouldn’t be difficult or expensive.

            BTW – I disagree with the Mayor on just about everything, but by definition, the Mayor IS the chief executive of the city, just as the President is the Chief Executive of the nation.

        • Tammy Casagranda says:

          I call it stirring the pot.

  6. What a joke they all are! Come next election they all need to be replace!!!!

    • Thanks observer- why don’t you put your real name then run? I certainly am not a joke and if there is something you would like to accomplish for the City please email, call or write to your Council Members or come to a meeting. Or Planning and Zoning and the Flood Board both have open seats, why don’t you join the solution? It takes work and effort but I think that Seward is worth it. Don’t you?

  7. I wanna barf on most. The only thing that looks good to me is a bowling alley would be a great asset to this town. Fun, exercise, friendship, something to do when kids say there is nothing to do. When marty kowalski had it, it joined the whole community all ages..sure miss the good old days.

  8. Original-
    I can’t respond under your comments, but our Municipal government is set up differently than our Federal Government. Seward is a Home Rule City in a Second Class Borough with a City Manager Form of Government. Both the Mayor and the City Manager have clearly defined roles in our government. The common definition of a chief executive officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking corporate officer (executive) or administrator in charge of total management of an organization. Our Seward City Code clearly designates the City Manager as the administrator for the City of Seward.
    Here are their duties as outlined in our City Code. If anyone wants to read for themselves the Seward City Code is available on-line at municode.com:
    2.10.025. – Duties of mayor, vice-mayor, acting mayor.
    (a)Mayor. The mayor shall possess all powers and shall exercise all duties required of him by law or the city council. He shall be presiding officer of the council. He shall be a member of the council with all powers and duties of that office.

    2.20.035. – City manager duties. [21]
    The city manager shall have the following duties:
    1. He shall be the chief administrative officer of the council and shall perform the duties of his office under authority of and shall be accountable to the council. He shall supervise and coordinate the work of the appointed officers and departments of the city, except the city attorney, city clerk and city clerk department, and he shall act as coordinator between those officers and other administrative officers.

    • So then, city code says that the City Manager answers to the council and that the Mayor is the presiding member of the council.

      Sounds like he’s the highest ranking official to me.

      This article is so slanted, it belongs in the Seward Journal.

      • Christy Terry says:

        John- again we are a City Manager form of government. Take some time to inform yourself before making statements. If you check out our city code at municode.com it is all explained. Or call me or the City Clerk, someone can explain it to you if it is confusing. Why dont you put your last name on your comments and you could also run for Council? Or better yet-there are current open seats on important Boards and Commissions. I realize it is alot easier to take a shot at someone on a blog then doing the work, but if you are interested in Seward you should be part of the process of building up instead of tearing down.

      • Good one!

  9. I stand corrected. Yet another thing that the illustrious Mayor is wrong about….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council%E2%80%93manager_government

  10. Christy –

    I’ve said in the past that I don’t like to comment in SCN due to the negativity but I applaud your efforts and support the Council and Administration for their service to the Seward community and patience with Mr. Seaward. The Mayor has one vote and precedes over the Council meetings. That means he runs the meetings according to Robert’s Rules of Order. It doesn’t give him additional authority over the Administration or any other Council member.

    It’s about time that Council, the Administration and even the Clerk’s offices inform the community of the factual difficulties they have had with Mr. Seaward. The articles about him or that he has written himself have been an embarrassment to the community. As for Mr. Hunt – I believe that Mr. Seaward is definitely providing all the proof for a potential defamation suit.

    If the Seward community believes that Mr. Seaward is not performing his duties competently and in violation of City Code – then there are options to try to remove him from office. The filing of the paperwork alone would send a clear message and only takes a handful of signatures. OR – voters need to vote Mr. Seaward out of office this fall. Either action would serve the community well.

    • Tammy Casagranda says:

      I agree Maya. I think the Mayor lacks knowledge and experience and has been pretty spiteful. Hes not a bad guy but I think his services would be better served in another arena.

      • I think we can all agree that several council members and the city manager have behaved spitefully as well. No one is innocent here, yet everyone acts like the side they support is blameless.

        It’s time for all parties involved to squash it and start acting like adults.

  11. Maya,
    You are missing a small detail here…the public voted Mayor Seaward into office. I’ve seen attitude on both sides. Time to pull their shorts/panties up and work together.

  12. Maya Moriarty says:

    Sandie- the public voted each council member into office and each one gets one vote. The mayor doesn’t get two votes or special authority that no one else gets except being the figurehead.

    BTW- he was voted in by a slim margin. Can we make the same argument that half the community didn’t want him as mayor and so we shouldn’t accept the results because I represent (this is just an example) the half that didn’t vote for him. Would a compromise be that he step down as mayor and join P & Z, get experience for a few years, and try again?

    When he was initially elected, the article about him quoted Mr. Seaward as willing to step down if he wasn’t performing well. If they did a peer and 360 review and allowed the documents to be open to the public- what would those reviews from Administration, the Clerk’s office, and other Council members reveal? I think last Monday’s Council meeting gave the public a taste of the frustration that all of them were having including the City attorney. Those evaluations would reveal so much more than what we see twice a month.

    So before you comment again, talk to each Council member, Administration, and the Clerk. You’ll find that -“It is not a conspiracy.”

    • I think everyone needs to tred carefully and just ride out his term. Considering how ugly this is getting, I am sure there is a lawyer out there who would gladly file a trumped up crazy lawsuit against the City/City Council on his behalf and cost the city thousands of dollars defending the case. He was voted in and he will be voted out.

      It will be interesting to see who decides to run for Mayor???

      Is it true, if you want to run for Mayor you need to make your financial portfolio public? If it is, wouldn’t that make some sucessful business people in our community who are qualified to be Mayor reluctant to run?

    • Thanks for the reminder that the current mayor was elected by a slim margin, due in large part to a single issue. We should also be reminded that the current mayor replaced Willard Dunham, a dedicated public servant and life long Seward resident who effectively lobbied on the town’s behalf to bring several of our major employers to town…AVTEC, Spring Creek and the SeaLife Center. You have to wonder how much more he could have accomplished for us these past few years had he been re-elected. It’s important to have the right people in those council positions!

      • Right there is the crux of the problem. I don’t think it really matters who was elected to the office-they will forever be held in Mr. Dunham’s shadow, and many are upset.

  13. Mr. Dunham is out. Now it’s time for a few concil members to go.

  14. How embarrassing that elected officials behave like this in our town. Shame on all of you!

  15. Speaking for myself in the mayor’s role, I do apologize for the heated discussions and comments I have made on this site. I want to thank the site administrator for allowing me to share the good and the bad. The community needs to know what’s going on. I take full responsibility. Those of you who have a reason to recall me, please do so. It will give me opportunity to freely explain to the community.

    Heidi Zemach (author of this article) does a great job of being fair in her reporting. Thank you for presenting both sides of an issue with the information available.

    I have lived in Seward for 9 years and 8 months. I understand the needs and issues facing the taxpayers. Please research my voting record. If anyone is interested in my financies, I will gladly show it to you. Give me a call today.

    I urge everyone to go to the new Library Museum and glance through the Charter of City of Seward. It’s the Big Red Binder. The Charter can only be amended by vote of the people. Charter Section 1.2: Form of government is the council -manager form. Section 3.4: Mayor Role. Section 5.4: Manager Role. Section 5.5: City Clerk

    In addition, the Seward City Codes provides additional provisions passed by the council. Title 2, page 2-21 explains further the role of appointed officers (city manager, city clerk…)

    Finally, we have the Rules of Council Procedures: …formal rules to guide the council. These Rules were Resolution Amendments approved by council. The Charter of City of Seward remains the final guide to follow and only can be amended by vote of the people. I may be wrong, so please get involved.

    Thank you.

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