by Allison Sayer for Seward City News-
The Seward City Council held its first February regular meeting on Monday February 12 at 7pm. Council Members Suzi Towsley, Sue McClure, Jeremy Horn, Ristine Casagranda, Mayor David Squires, and Vice Mayor Marianna Keil were present. Council member Erik Slater was absent.
The meeting stretched on for three and a half hours before going into recess, to resume with the last piece of business the following day. Over the course of the meeting, future work sessions were scheduled. These included a joint work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission on the Army Rec Camp property and work sessions on employee union eligibility, the South Harbor Launch Ramp, and recreation opportunities including the proposed ice rink.
Six Seward area residents made public comments.
Cliff Krug of the Seward Business Network spoke highly of the second Seward Second Saturday event. He said a 10-20% revenue increase could be attributed to the event for participating businesses, with the best results coming from businesses that paired social media promotion with the event.
John Moline had strong words for the Council and Administration. He stated that they had failed to handle noise and trash violations committed by Safeway, including diesel generator tests at 4 am. He also stated concerns about businesses operating without appropriate licenses, and suggested that the city was complicit in violations.
Mr. Moline’s concerns were spoken to later in the meeting. Mayor Squires asked City Manager Jim Hunt to look into the noise violations. He also emphasized that Mr. Moline “deserves an answer in writing.”
City Finance Director Kris Erchinger spoke to Mr. Moline’s statements about unlicensed businesses. She stated that these allegations had been thoroughly investigated, and were based on incorrect assumptions.
Laura Schneider advised Council and the public of the upcoming SMIC relaunch event scheduled for April 20 and 21.
Linda Paquette requested an update on Lowell Point Road repairs, and stated her concerns about future summer and motorhome traffic.
Maya Moriarty stated she had asked to see the city FOIA records requests from the past three years. She listed a detailed inventory of documents requested that pertained to the city manager. This led her to question “what the motives are.” On another note, she urged the city to press forward with the ice rink project, stating that it could be successful.
Finally, Harbormaster Norm Regis announced an upcoming meeting regarding the South Harbor launch ramp. He also requested for a work session scheduled after March 6 on this topic, stating public work sessions were necessary for federal funding.
The city council went on to approve the consent agenda (available at http://www.cityofseward.us/DocumentCenter/View/4125) with some slight changes. The first amendment was to combine an upcoming ice rink public session with other topics in order to create fewer meetings.
The second change to the consent agenda was to create a slight change to the wording regarding the work session on employee union eligibility. The initial wording stated the work session would be “with” the Alaska Public Employees Union. However, it is the City Council that determines which positions are eligible to unionize and not the APEA.
A representative from the Borough gave the Borough Assembly report. His major topic to report on was the school budget, which remains uncertain. He emphasized, “All we know is talking about flat funding.” This is not the long term solution the borough hopes for, but it could keep the schools out of deficit for the time being. Therefore, all parties are prepared to go along with this option “for right now.”
In other Borough business, the North End Road in Nikiski was voted to be put out for bids.
City Manager Jim Hunt then gave the manager’s report. He detailed major expenditures since the last meeting, including $13,211.55 for Electric Power Constructors involved in the Fort Raymond generator relocation project, $36,225.00 for annual janitorial services in the Harbor,$48,740 for SMIC moorage floats, and $30,317.00 to park maintenance for a new plow truck (more details available at http://www.cityofseward.us/DocumentCenter/View/4125).
A debrief of the recent tsunami warning was also part of the City Manager’s report. Unfortunately, Police Chief Tom Clemens was ill and unable to attend the debriefing as planned. Chief Clemens plans to address the next meeting.
Mr. Hunt reported the city is working to update emergency warning equipment in the City and specifically at Mountain Haven. Redundancy in emergencies has been a continuing issue; key personnel may not be present during every emergency. The City Administration is pursuing working with former employees to increase the number of people available during emergencies. The city also found that distinct definitions of “where to go for what event” are needed.
City Attorney Will Earnhart’s report was brief. There will be no movement on the Orion case in the near future due to a backlog in the Ninth Circuit Court. He also took the opportunity to emphasize the qualifications of the specialized commercial attorneys the City accesses through the firm Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot. Earnhart stated Construction Specialist Adam Cook will work with the city regarding Vigor’s early termination of its lease, and other attorneys with experience working specifically with municipalities will be assigned to administrative and personnel issues.
Orson Smith from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council (RCAC) gave a presentation on their latest work. The organization has been deeply involved with the transition from Crowley to Edison Chouest as the safety and assistance company for tankers. Overall, the RCAC has a favorable report on the transition.
One point of controversy is that the RCAC would like to see drills carried out under “closure conditions,” which are the worst conditions during which the tankers should be permitted to leave Hinchinbrook Entrance. Alyeska cites safety concerns around this, and does not want to perform these exercises. Smith noted that at least 8 tankers have left Hinchinbrook Entrance when the wave height exceeded the limit for “closure conditions.”
Elliot Jackson was next to speak about a proposed ice rink in the City of Seward. He requested that the city donate the land for the facility, and that the land be within walking distance from schools. Jackson listed possible grant opportunities and revenue streams that could be used to construct and maintain the ice rink. The cost of constructing the Homer rink was approximately $3 million, and it costs about $200,000 annually to maintain.
Jackson emphasized the opportunities for teams to hold tournaments and buy ice time in Seward, stating that all of the rinks in Anchorage were overbooked. He estimates that the Homer facility generates about $640,000 annually in hospitality service revenue.
Jackson fielded questions about the rink. As to whether the Homer rink is in the green or in the red, he stated it is in the green. As to whether the rink would be run by the city or privately, he stated that could be decided later. As to building size, he stated that the rink would need to hold a 185 X 80 foot rink, be fully enclosed, and strongly recommended locker and shower facilities. He also answered yes when asked whether the proposed project has a business plan.
One council member wanted to know whether there would be opportunities for people who just enjoyed skating to participate without being dominated by hockey players. Elliot stated there would be times set aside for family skates, figure skating, and other non-hockey opportunities.
Next, Kris Erchinger discussed the contract extension with BDO for the city audit. Although it is typically good practice to rotate firms, Erchinger stated that there was only one firm available within the state to rotate to. Erchinger stated that rotating staff within the firm could be an alternative to rotating firms, and that the city would have new staff working with them in the upcoming year. The extension was approved for two years, with a slight change in language specifically stating that it was council that approves the contract. All members voted for the two year extension except for Council Member Casagranda, who wanted to see just a one year extension.
Scheduling the work session on employee union eligibility was next. This generated some discussion because representatives Casagranda and Towsley wanted the meeting to be held within a few days to show the city understood the urgency of the issue. Other members stated that scheduling the meeting too quickly would make it difficult to prepare. The meeting was set for February 27.
There was extensive discussion regarding records requests, and a proposal to hold a work session regarding this issue. The specifics of who must pay for personnel time, and how personnel record their time fulfilling records requests were discussed. Rather than a work session, it was agreed that the administration and clerk’s office should work together to produce a clarifying document. Later in the meeting, adding a column on records request forms to include the requestor’s name was agreed upon by all Council members, although Mayor Squires disagreed.
Mayor Squires briefly reviewed some of the City Council goals, and any progress on those. Many of these were set aside for a later time. However, Council members were enthusiastic about continuing to work on the animal shelter.
Mayor Squires mentioned construction on ADA accessible parking outside of City Hall, and that this is necessary to continue to use the building for voting. He also spoke about making sure city residents know which radio station would have emergency information in the event of an emergency, and added the goal of a citywide disaster exercise with specific communication, evacuation, and resource moving components. Finally, Mayor Squires asked the city administration to investigate whether city utilities could be extended to future areas.
There was a brief discussion on sending a Council member to utility training. Mayor Squires stated this would overextend the travel budget. Electric Utility Manager John Foutz proposed an alternative opportunity. A public information officer from Chugach Electric could be invited to work with the City Council in Seward at the expense of Chugach Electric. The Council responded favorably to this option.
A discussion on the specifics of travel expense reporting followed. There was some need for clarification regarding how expenses are tracked for employees that have a city credit card versus those who do not.
Council members finally gave their closing comments. Council Member Horn thanked those gathered for the turnout, welcomed Riley Shurtleff as the new Deputy City Clerk, and stated he was excited about the SMIC relaunch.
Council Member Towsley thanked all speakers, and stated her concern that she had requested information and been told it would cost her $1400 to access that information.
Council Member Casagranda congratulated the finance department on its recent Certificate for Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. She congratulated Cheryl Seese on her appointment to the Historic Preservation Commission, and thanked the finance and administrative departments for their “clear interpretation” of electric utility changes. She also stated she felt recent interest in unionization was related to a desire for fair treatment, and asked the Council to adopt the documents created by Carol Griswold on grievance procedures.
Council Member McClure stated she was happy to hear the positive report about SMIC, and gave an enthusiastic and positive report about the Science Bowl. She also thanked the Council and City Manager for keeping the event in Seward. Finally, she requested that maps showing tsunami projections be made more available to the public.
Vice Mayor Keil gave a summary of the amount of meetings expected for February and March, stating that anyone who wants to run for Council in October should “see what they’re signing up for.” She also encouraged the public to participate in the upcoming events.
Mayor Squires reminded the public and Council of the upcoming Gasline Development Corporation meeting in Seward. He also congratulated Cheryl Seese on her appointment and welcomed new deputy clerk Riley Shurtleff. He also stated that he had received many emails, and had 2,000 minutes on his cell phone for the past month. He said he would like to remind both the council and administration “to work for the public. We have to remember our positions in that function.”
Final citizen comments followed. John Foutz requested that multisport use of a future ice rink be considered, and not only ice. Foutz also announced with sorrow that former city employee Charlie Forrest had passed away.
Ron Wille expressed a desire to see more professionalism and respect in discussions at City Council meetings. He also spoke highly of the recent Marine Gala at the Alaska SeaLife Center, stating they put on a wonderful event.
Linda Paquette spoke of the hope for a “culture shift,” and hoped that Seward would adopt eight intentions for peace to make for a “We Love Us” city. She reminded Council that former mayor Jean Bardarson had signed a proclamation declaring Seward a “We Love Us” city last April.
City Attorney Will Earnhart briefly stated that he has copies of grievance procedure documents available for review.
The City Council reconvened the following day to go into Executive Session to discuss the City Attorney’s contract.
The next City Council meeting will take place at 7:00 pm on Monday February 26.