Cierra C.C. Hahn drives past Hoonahs Jessica Skaflestad at the Panthers home opener. See stories on the girls and boys teams starting on the back page and Don Hather Tourney scores and stats on activities page. Photo by Andrew Cremata
Police pay raise roundabout
Mayor vetoes, council overrides
By ANDREW CREMATA
Mayor Tim Bourcys veto of a resolution passed by City Council to adopt a 12-step pay scale increase for the Skagway Police Department prompted a spirited debate at the Jan. 4 council meeting. A vote to override the veto eventually passed, but this was not evident at the time of the vote. The city will now retroactively pay employees of the police department their increases, effective Jan 1, but a potentially larger problem now faces the council concerning how to handle wage issues for the rest of the citys payroll.
In the mayors veto dated Dec. 22, 2006, Bourcy outlined three reasons for his decision. He wrote that the council created an unfunded mandate by establishing a Jan. 1 effective date for the raise. Secondly, he said it was inappropriate for the council to adopt pay raises in the middle of a budget cycle. His third point called for a comprehensive approach to the problem that would include all city departments in assessing wage disparity issues before the next budget cycle.
The reasons for the veto echoed comments made by City Manager Bob Ward at the previous council meeting where he suggested the council exercise patience in regard to the pay raise.
As for the police department, it was apparent they had run out of patience. Before the meeting, Sergeant Ken Cox said he approached the city on April 21, 2006 with the departments request for a pay raise, including a packet containing research comparing pay in Skagway to that of other Southeast Alaska communities. Nine years had passed since the current pay scale was adopted, and while the resolution adopting the pay scale called for reviews every two years, none had actually taken place. Cox said no response from the city concerning their request was ever received, which prompted their action in the middle of the current budget cycle.
At the meeting, Sheryl Gladden urged the council to override the veto and said all city employees went above and beyond their job duties, due to the nature of living in a small town. We are not seeking compensation for the above and beyond, but equally with our counterparts around the region, she said.
Officer Rick Ackerman said he agreed with Bourcy when he said the issue should be addressed during the annual budget process. However, it wasnt done. It hasnt been done. Everybodys admitted to that, he said.
He said by voting in favor of the raise at the previous meeting, the council recognized their failure to address the issue when it was brought up by the police department in April. Somebody set it off to the side, somebody overlooked it, somebody took it personal, I dont know. It wasnt done, Ackerman said.
Former Police Chief Dennis Spurrier said, Obviously, the ball was dropped by whomever.
All of the police employees who commented asked for the council to vote to override the veto. Many spoke about the prospect of losing families who could choose to move away from Skagway if the issue was not resolved. Several comments made by police department employees seemed to indicate the prospect was a reality, but no one was mentioned specifically.
Were not just talking hypothetically here, said Officer Dave Sexton. We really are going to lose kids out of the school district and we are going to lose them this year. He said it would be unfortunate if families who were struggling financially were forced to leave town because the council did not stick to its original decision to accept the pay raise.
The mayor then addressed the assembly and reiterated his points from the veto message. He said during the last budget cycle the council set its priorities for a hold-the-line budget to fund the construction of a new medical clinic, and this meant there was no way to fund the pay increase of approximately $75,000 for the rest of the budget cycle.
The reason why this veto was enforced is all about process, said Bourcy. ...The council created an unfunded mandate. There is no funding mechanism for that pay raise.
Councilman Mike Catsi took exception to the mayors reasoning and said, I think this veto is fairly bogus.... This is not an unfunded mandate. An unfunded mandate is something that is forced on the body from above that comes without funds.... Its an under-funded service.
The discussion between Ward, Bourcy and the council became more heated as they debated if, and how funding for the raise could be appropriated. Councilman Dan Henry said that a mechanism was in place for just such an action.
Catsi said multiple appropriations were made in the past during other budget cycles, adding the police situation would be no different. Bourcy said the situation was different because past appropriations were for emergency capital projects and thus funded through sales tax. He said that the pay raise would have to come from property tax, and residents who pay that tax should be able to weigh-in on the issue.
Catsi asked for a show of hands from those assembled who pay property tax. Most raised their hands.
Bourcy responded to the show of hands by saying to Catsi, Guess what? You have to have the ability to do it during the budget process.
The possibility of using money in the citys reserves was also discussed, but Bourcy insisted that money was set aside for the clinic.
Ward said that when it came time to prepare the next budget, all the departments would need to be considered as a whole to see how they compare. By giving the police a pay raise immediately, it could skew that process and leave other city employees at a disadvantage for wage funding. He also called into question the research prepared by the department and said a more comprehensive and statistically accurate survey should be done.
Henry responded to Wards comments by saying, Where they stood regionally is an embarrassment.
The discussion reached a crescendo when Bourcy said the council bore the responsibility of a hold-the-line budget, to which Catsi responded, So these guys are screwed?
Rather than beat a dead horse, lets vote on it, said Bourcy.
Before the vote, Councilman Mike Korsmo said that the department had a good case and that he would fight for their pay raise in the next budget cycle, but he would be voting against the override. This took the mystery out of the end result because, at the time, all in attendance thought it would take five votes to override the veto. With Councilman Dave Hunz absent, at best the override could receive four votes, which it did (see sidebar).
After the meeting, Police Chief Ray Leggett said, I cant begin to describe the disappointment we have over that. He said their disappointment stemmed from the mayor originally offering his support, but then being ignored after submitting their proposal.
The council did the right thing, he said, adding that the ultimate decision would not change the way they did business.
Disappointment turned to elation the following week after the department received notice that four votes passed the override, allowing the department to receive their pay increase.
It was a surprise blessing for us, said Leggett.
The council will soon face decisions regarding potential wage increases for the rest of the city payroll. A resolution has already been prepared by Ward that would retroactively adopt pay scale increases city-wide. Ward says the increases represent a more conservative approach than that of the police department and would cost the city an additional $75,935 in this budget cycle, excluding funding for the fire department.
The total increase for the next fiscal year, including the police pay raise would be $280,638. It is expected that another $111,124 will be needed for the PERS retirement contributions.
How the council responds to the new action remains to be seen, but at least one concerned citizen has already voiced an opinion on the subject.
At the Jan. 18 meeting, former councilmember Colette Hisman said that the time for addressing wages and raises should be at budget time. Just because those in charge of the police department (budget) did not see the proposal from officers last spring does not mean theres a need to revamp the whole pay scale, she said. If you do it, do it in a well thought out and balanced way.
The resolution will be addressed by the council at a future meeting. It was pulled off the agenda last week because members wanted a full council present.
The makings of a veto override
By ANDREW CREMATA
In his letter dated Jan 10, 2007, City Manager Bob Ward wrote, ...Mayor (Tim) Bourcys veto was overridden last Thursday, with the four affirmative votes. The statement was a reversal of his comments at the Jan 4 City Council meeting asserting that five votes were necessary for the veto override. The events that transpired in less than a week not only challenged Wards original interpretation of written code, but allowed for the adoption of the Police Departments pay raise despite Bourcys attempt to thwart the councils decision.
At the council meeting, the city managers report to the council stated simply, To override a veto you will need five positive votes. However, in his comments Ward said there was evident confusion regarding Title 29.
Title 29 is part of the Alaska Statutes, and outlines laws concerning the operation of local municipal governments within the state. Skagway is a first class city, and as a result, utilizes sections of Title 29 dealing with governance issues that apply to such a municipality.
The confusion that Ward mentioned stemmed from AS 29.20.270 where it says, A veto may be overridden by vote of two-thirds of the authorized governing body. At the time, Ward said the authorized governing body of the council included the mayor, so a two-thirds majority of that body would equal five votes.
Councilman Mike Catsi questioned Ward about his interpretation of the mayors role in the governing body. Ward further explained his position by saying, since a simple majority of the council is four votes, a supermajority would be needed for the purpose of overriding a veto. He said, For our purposes there are seven members on the authorized governing body.
Councilpersons Dan Henry, Lisa Cassidy, Craig Jennison, and Catsi all voted to override the veto. Councilman Mike Korsmo voted no, with Councilman Dave Hunz absent. Originally, the vote to adopt the resolution for the police pay raise passed four to one with Hunz voting for the measure and Catsi absent. Korsmo originally voted against the resolution citing the need for more research into alternatives.
The apparent failure of the veto override left some police department employees baffled and frustrated. Commenting on Wards interpretation of Title 29 after the meeting, Police Dispatcher Sheryl Gladden said, I dont understand how it can be five votes and not four. Two-thirds of six is four.
Other police department employees, including Chief Ray Leggett, also expressed concern over the handling of the vote.
The crux of Wards interpretation of the code dealt with an apparent misunderstanding of the term authorized governing body. Article X, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution says, The governing body of a city shall be the council.
Nowhere in either Title 29 or the Alaska Constitution is the term authorized governing body used when dealing with topics involving a mayors role or duties. Instead, the phrase is only used when addressing the role of the council.
Veto overrides are extremely rare. The last time Skagway was faced with a veto override situation was May 17, 2001 and it dealt with a proposed moratorium of animal-driven tours within the city. Then Mayor John Mielke vetoed the resolution. A motion to override the veto was put forth and, at that time, only four votes were deemed necessary to pass the override. With only four members of the council present, the veto override failed 2-2. Bourcy, then a councilman, voted to override the veto.
The lack of local precedent for Wards explanation of Title 29 prompted further research into the matter to see if similar situations in other municipalities had ever been addressed.
When asked if there were possible precedents anywhere in the state concerning veto overrides, Mark Marones, the Special Assistant for Communications for the Attorney Generals Office said that no one in their civil division was aware of a published opinion that addressed the question about qualifying votes for a veto override.
Phone calls to multiple municipalities around the state clarified where they stand regarding the issue. Seldovia, Soldotna, Dillingham, Craig and Homer all operate under the same state guidelines as Skagway, and all confirmed that in their respective cities, four is the number of votes necessary to override a veto. In fact, only municipalities with a strong mayor form of government, such as Fairbanks and Wasilla, require five votes.
In a conversation with Ward on the Friday after the council meeting, he said that City Attorney Robert Blasco was researching whether his interpretation concerning the definition of an authorized governing body was valid.
He said, (Blasco) is investigating it in an abstract manner. I believe the assumptions we made last night are correct.
He added that if the interpretation of the two-thirds majority equals four votes, the same as a simple majority, then the mayors power would be greatly reduced.
The same day, Bourcy said in a phone interview that he absolutely agreed with Wards interpretation despite the conflicting information compiled concerning local precedent and other Alaska cities interpretation of Title 29. When asked why this particular vote required different criteria than the 2001 override vote, Bourcy said that it had been so long since that meeting, he did not remember the details concerning the necessary votes to override at the time.
He did say that Blasco had made a determination on the matter, and would provide a written response. He added, I will defer to whatever the legal opinion is on that issue.
Catsi e-mailed Ward, Bourcy and members of the council on that Friday requesting a copy of the written decision by the city attorney. That decision was never produced due to the fact that Blasco found that the governing body of a municipality is indeed the six-person council.
In his letter dated Jan. 10 clarifying the outcome of the veto override, Ward wrote, I apologize for any misdirection on the veto issue. I did truly believe that the absence of a super majority for veto override diminishes the power of the veto....
When asked why this particular vote was chosen to test the interpretation of Title 29, Ward said by phone, I suppose it had a lot to do with the nature of the issue.
He said that it was his fault that he could not believe the nature of the two-thirds vote would be the same as that of a simple majority, and added that if the city so chose, they could adopt regulations in the future that would require five votes for veto override. That action is allowed, he said.
Bill Dunn, manager of the Minto Mine, shows photos and discusses work at the mine so far. Jeff Brady
Ore terminal will soon be back on line
Sherwood, AIDEA reach agreement; Hamilton to start construction in Feb.
By ANDREW CREMATAand JEFF BRADY
The conveyors at the Skagway Ore Terminal will soon be humming once again.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has reached an agreement to sublease a portion of the terminal to Sherwood Copper Corporations Minto Mine, and it is hoped operations will begin sometime this summer.
We have just completed a commercial deal with Minto, and are in the process of awarding a construction contract to Hamilton Construction, said John Wood, on-site manager for AIDEA, by phone from Anchorage.
He said construction to rehabilitate the existing facility, including the partial construction of a concentrate storage building, would begin in February. He said the completion of the construction phase and the start of operations by Minto are scheduled for summer 2007.
At the Jan 4 City Council meeting, the sublease arrangement was approved by council and allows the shipment of ore through the facility to proceed.
The return of operations at the ore terminal will provide new jobs for Skagway residents. Wood said the operation should create five full-time equivalent positions at the terminal. That could mean two or three full-time jobs and a handful of part-time jobs.
On the heels of the agreement, Bill Dunn, general manager of the Minto Mine, came to Skagway Jan. 18 and gave a Powerpoint presentation about the project, including more details about the movement of ore down to Skagway.
Dunn told the audience at the city council meeting that the ore body, located about 150 miles northwest of Whitehorse, should start producing in the second quarter this year. The stripping of the open pit is about 50 percent complete. Its copper ore is the fourth highest grade in the world, he said, enabling Sherwood to secure a $100 million construction loan and a forward sale at $3.17 a pound, a price that guarantees pay back. The company is in negotiations with the Yukon government for extending the territorys hydroelectric grid to the mine site, which currently operates with six diesel generators.
The mine should produce about four million pounds over the next six years, and a second ore body nearby could add two or three more years to the life of the mine, he noted.
Dunn said the agreement with AIDEA, completed that day, calls for Sherwood to use 25 percent of the existing ore terminal pad. AIDEA will refurbish the ship loader and construct a storage building and covered truck-off-loading area. The contractor hired to manage the facility for Sherwood must be approved by AIDEA.
A construction timetable calls for the building and ship-loader improvements to be completed by May 15, the truck load-out improvements by July 1, and final construction by September.
When finished, he said it will employ five people.
Once production starts, there will be about five ore trucks a day on the highway, Dunn said. They will run June through September, and December through March. During the other months, there will be no shipments during freeze-up and break-up of the Yukon River. Trucks must be able to cross the river on either a barge or ice bridge the mine is 20 kilometers west of the river.
About 10 ore ships are expected a year into Skagway, and will be scheduled around cruise ships, which have priority berthing at the Ore Dock. The ore will be shipped in 5,000 metric tonne lots, Dunn said.
UPDATE: In a press release issued Jan. 26, AIDEA released more details of the agreement. It will be for seven years with an option to extend for 10 additional years. More on the agreement and other Yukon mines on the horizon in the Feb. 9 issue.
LBC approves decisional statement, dissent; reconsideration period ends first week of Feb.
By JEFF BRADY
At a long and highly contentious meeting on Jan. 11, members of the Local Boundary Commission approved its decisional statement in favor of the Skagway Borough petition, but also allowed a statement of dissent from the two commissioners who voted against the petition last month.
The two documents were formally served to the petitioner on Jan. 19, and also posted last Friday on the LBC Website. The decisional statement by the majority is 59 pages, while the statement of dissent is 79 pages.
The decisional statement reviews the Skagway case in detail, from the original 2002 ruling denying the petition to the remand from Superior Court, and also dives into the history of borough formation on a statewide level. It concludes that there is flexibility in applying standards, particularly in this case, and says Skagway meets all the applicable standards for borough formation and that their decision is in the best interest of the state. It is signed by Commissioner Darroll Hargraves, who voted in favor of the petition with Commissioners Robert Harcharek and Georgianna Zimmerle.
The statement of dissent challenges many of the majoritys flexible conclusions, which went against recommendations of Commissioners Robert Hicks and Anthony Nakazawa during the late November hearing in Skagway and Dec. 13 decisional meeting. It also hammers at the decisional statement itself, saying it is replete with omitted deliberations, inaccurate assertions of deliberations that never occurred, ignored facts, fanciful speculations, unsupported reasoning, specious rationalizations, misunderstandings of law, and erroneous applications of law. The majority decision is, in a word, a travesty.
The full text of the documents are on file at Skagway City Hall and may be downloaded at: www.dced.state.ak.us/dca/lbc/skagway.htm
Commissioners by law are not free to talk about their decisions until the case is closed. An 18-day period began Jan. 19 in which there could be requests for reconsideration filed by the public. The commission itself has 20 days from that date in which, on its own motion, it also could vote to reconsider the decision.
LBC staff member Dan Bockhorst in an e-mail said that it is not uncommon for the LBC, when divided, to issue statements of dissent with decisional statements. There were two statements filed in the Yakutat case, he noted.
This latest proceeding should (I hope) put an end to the myth that the LBC is a rubber-stamp agency, he added. The three-member majority disagreed with the staff recommendation. Further, while the minority reached the same overall conclusion as the staff, the two commissioners in the minority clearly showed independent reasoning.
If the decision moves forward without reconsideration, then by law, the Director of Elections will be notified by the chair of the LBC that the petition has been accepted to dissolve the first class City of Skagway and to order an election in the area proposed to approve borough incorporation and elect officials. That election would occur 30-90 days after the election order.
The Jan. 11 hearing was teleconferenced to Skagway. City Manager Bob Ward said he listened to much of it, calling it as difficult as any we have experienced to date. What should have been a simple ratification of the statement became an attempt to re-open the decisional meeting by those on the minority side. It was painful to witness, even over the phone.
Ward added, It seems that the three LBC members on the prevailing side were not inclined to reconsider their previous action. We shall see how this all plays out, but it is evident that it is not over yet.
UPDATE: A request for reconsideration was received from former state senators Vic Fisher and Arliss Sturgelewski on Jan. 26. Their 13-page request is on the LBC website. A meeting to take up the reconsideration request will be held on Feb. 8. Details in next issue.
CITY: Craig Jennison moving, resigns council seat
City Councilmember Craig Jennison announced his resignation at the end of the Jan. 18 meeting, saying he could not pass up a Juneau job offer.
Its been a great experience up here for eight-plus years, he said, adding it was not an easy decision for him.
Jennison, who had been running TEMSCO Helicopters Skagway office, will be taking a higher-level position with NorthStar Trekking in Juneau.
He thanked City Manager Bob Ward and City Clerk Marj Harris for their assistance, and especially Mayor Tim Bourcy for recommending him to serve on a city board a few years ago. He was elected to the council in 2005 and said he was sorry he had to leave before his term was up.
Bourcy said its always bad news when Skagway loses someone who has been dedicated to the community. He thanked Jennison for his hard work and service to not only the city, but to the local chapter of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, the Buckwheat Ski Classic, and the Chamber of Commerce. He joked that the only upside from the resignation was the opportunity to have one less delusional Seahawks fan in Skagway.
The mayor said he does not intend to appoint a replacement, allowing the seat to remain vacant until the expected borough assembly election this spring. JB
CITY: Manager search resumes till filled
After revamping and re-posting the ad for the city manager position early this month, the search committee met over the past two weeks to review a new wave of candidates.
Four applications had come in as of Jan. 16, and the committee decided to conduct phone interviews with two of the candidates: Alan J. Sorum, the manager of port facilities in Valdez; and Blair Alden, the business manager of the Lower Kuskokwim School District in Bethel.
Those interviews were conducted this past Tuesday, Jan. 23, but no decisions were made. In the meantime, four more applications had come in, and the committee was going to meet again Thursday after this issues deadline to go over those and decide how to proceed.
The committee is using a new scoring system to whittle down candidates, improving on its earlier process which resulted in bringing two finalists to town last month who ultimately did not score high enough to be hired. The committee hopes to bring higher-scoring candidates to town for interviews this go-round. The position has been advertised as open until filled, and retiring City Manager Bob Ward said he is prepared to stay on a while if the transition period goes past his Feb. 28 retirement date.
The committee has not ruled out hiring from within the city. At the earlier meeting on Jan. 16, City Clerk Marj Harris asked if the committee would have a problem with her applying for the job. Members said they would not have a problem, saying they would deal with her application just like the others with a scoring system.
The committee also looked at a previously shelved ordinance that would allow the city council to hire one of its own members or the mayor with a vote of five members (three-quarters) of the council. State law allows this, although Skagway code currently is stricter, specifying that it may not hire the mayor or council members until they have been out of office for a year. Committee members had no objection to the change, which would have to go through the ordinance process during the borough code revamp. JB
UPDATE: Sorum came to Skagway to be interviewed by the committee on Jan. 29. The committee also interviewed four additional candidates by phone that evening. At the end of the evening, they voted to recommend Sorum for the position. That recommendation will be presented to the Skagway City Council in special session on Feb. 2. Details in next issue.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
50 YEARS AP&T kicked off its 50th anniversary year with a party this week. Gathered around the cake are Stan Selmer, Dave Vogel and Sheryl Dennis. Photo by Mark McCready/
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