City of Seward, Council

City Council Grapples with Question of Executive Session

Seward City Hall. Seward City News file photo.
Seward City Hall. Seward City News file photo.

By Rick Smeriglio for SCN —

After unanimously passing seven routine resolutions, Seward City Council settled in for a fraught discussion about whether to hold or not to hold an executive session about overtime work and the comparative amounts of it between and within city departments. Councilwoman Rissie Casagranda’s new business item of such a discussion, did not result in a motion and therefore Council took no action. Neither did the discussion clarify for the public, whether or not a public issue exists regarding city employees and overtime work. City Council did not go into executive session and the matter fizzled.

Afterwards, Cassagranda declared, “There is a record that I have asked for that I haven’t been told I can have and I haven’t been told I can’t have. I intend to keep on asking until I’m told yes or no.”

Cassagranda said that if she obtained the information she wanted, she would proceed on what she learned. If denied the information, she said that would tell her something as well.

In explaining to Council her reasons for wanting an executive session, Casagranda said publicly, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it because it’s a borderline personnel issue … I think it’s a sensitive subject … it’s numbers.”

Assistant city manager Ron Long said to Cassagranda, “If the question is why does one department have more overtime than another department, then I would encourage you to come in and ask us about it. Because in many cases, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

Casagranda elaborated that she did not want information about particular individuals. She said that she wanted amounts of overtime worked by each department. Further, she wanted that information broken down by individual employee, not named, but protectively labeled by number or letter for reasons of privacy.

Generally, Council sets overall policy, but does not involve itself in daily administrative matters. Council lets administration handle personnel matters including schedules, leave, discipline, and overtime.

Councilwoman Marianna Keil said to Cassagranda across the dais, “We [Council] set the budget, that’s how we deal with overtime.”

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City attorney Will Earnhart publicly advised Council on Title 2. Chapter 10.030 (b) of Seward Code that establishes five criteria for determining when Council may go into executive session. Council may move into executive session (exclude the public) when:

  1. general knowledge of the matter would financially harm City of Seward,
  2. the matter could harm a person’s reputation unless the person requests public discussion,
  3. the subject pertains to threatened or pending litigation,
  4. it involves a contract negotiation including a labor contract or
  5. state law, borough ordinance or city charter requires confidentiality.

Earnhart also advised Council that that it must go on record (state publicly) the reason for going into executive session. He advised that once in executive session, Council would have to stick to the issue that justified the session. Additionally, Council would have to put into the public record anything decided while in executive session. Earnhart seemed to question why an overall discussion of city overtime pay could not occur in public session. He did allow however, that Council could not appropriately discuss an individual employee’s overtime pay in public, as that discussion could harm the employee’s reputation.

In speaking about the Council in executive session, Earnhart said, “I think the real danger is when do you call time out and say we’re getting into administrative matters.”

State of Alaska Open Meetings Act, Alaska Statute 44.62.310 (c) applies. It lays out  criteria for open meetings and for going into executive session. The Act reads basically the same as city code in giving justifications for executive sessions, except that it does not mention labor contracts.

Alaska Statute 44.62.312 lays out state policy on public meetings. Section (4) declares, “… the people … do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and what is not good for them to know.”

The public can access City of Seward budgets via the city’s web site. City of Seward, Alaska Biennial Budget 2014 and 2015 gives a detailed account of city finances for the period 1/1/14 through 12/31/15. Pages 56 through 87 show overtime dollars spent by city departments and divisions within departments. All departments worked some overtime with the exceptions of community development, animal control, and the library. By far, police and the jail worked the most overtime. Public Works and its street operations worked the second largest amount of overtime. The city shop worked a trailing third most overtime. Pages 190 through 197 list salary and hourly pay scales as well as pay ranges for most city positions. The document does not list salary for city manager and city clerk positions which the city pays under contract provisions.

Seward City Council will hold its next regular meeting on March 14.

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