Friday, October 30, 2009

Dirty Money?

It's not the first time the Peninsula Clarion has made this particular typo, but if you read today's paper and the article about the large pay raises some borough managers and political employees received, Mayor Carey admits to having nothing to hide because it was all 'pubic' money. C'mon you Clarion writers and editors, are you onto some scandal, have some Freudian issues or are we really getting screwed by the borough?

The pay raises are impressive - especially for the mayor's two assistants with each now bringing in some $90K. Carey says that you can't hire competent people for less. I think I know more than a handful of very qualified folks who could do the job for a measly $75K. And the mayor and his staff are competent? Morale at the borough building is low and lots of senior staff have left (or been replaced by political appointees). I thought people went into government to serve the people, not to get rich. Pay 'em a fair wage, and please, don't hide those enormous pay raises.

Sing Kum-Ba-Ya

To paraphrase Mayor Micciche's opinion piece in the Clarion this past Wednesday, let's be nice if and when Soldotnans disagree in the future. I thought he might lead the city council in singing the campy anthem of harmony at that evening's meeting. And just like that the council voted unanimously to approve the Redoubt cemetery site. An unsuccessful council candidate did stand and speak against the inevitable and predicted massive fish kills if the Redoubt site was approved and if a settling pond wasn't to be put in there. But that was not really a problem was the public works director's response. I don't know if it ever occured to the Mooring on the River folks to give actual and factual reasons not to locate the cemetery at the Redoubt site there, but it just might have helped their cause to be a bit more honest about their opposition and not make up so much stuff.

By the way, the council unanimously approved every item presented. Maybe they sung Kum Ba Ya during the executive session!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Definition of Cronyism

I hope that some of you tuned in to (or showed up at) the borough assembly meeting last week. Amid the mundane, the hot items of the month were the assembly's attempt to define management job descriptions and their questioning the unpublicized and extravagant pay raises the mayor's staff received.

Each and every new borough mayor thinks that he needs to replace at least some of the managers of borough departments and, on the surface, the argument sort of makes sense. You want loyal people carrying out your priorities. But we've seen some insanity ensue as competent and qualified mangers have been replaced by those who don't have experience or competence in that particular field and are just political hires rewarded for some favor owed by the mayor. Especially this particular mayor.

So, defining the job and setting qualifications is just a reminder that the loyalty of borough managers is to the citizens of the Kenai - not to the whims of any particular mayor. To give jobs to unqualified cronies just sets up the potential for abuse.

I was somewhat puzzled by Gary Knopp's assertions that a roads manager didn't have to have roads experience, but I am glad that most of the rest of the assembly thought it might be of value. And to Gary's credit, he did vote for the overall package. The only dissenting vote was by Charlie Pierce, who offered no explanation for his opposition to creating these job descriptions.

And it was Charlie who was the sole cheerleader of Mayor Dave when it came to questioning the back-door pay raises of nearly $25,000 each, to both of the mayor's special assistants. Both Hugh Chumley and Susan Wilcox now are paid over $92,000 a year.

What is particularly puzzling, and mentioned previously on this blog, is the unabashed way Mayor Dave and Charlie Pierce have defended these huge pay raises - especially when the mayor and Charlie present themselves as fiscal conservatives.

It was awkward when Mayor Williams sort of appointed Bill Popp to be one his special assistants and set the precedent for the mayor to have 2 such beasts. There was some howling over that deed. Is there really a need for the redundancy?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Bus Doesn't Stop Here

Alrighty, enough about local government politics for a while...well at least for today.

I've more-or-less left the school district alone on this blog. There is a new guy in charge, and first reports seem to indicate that he is sensible and competent. I hope that trend continues for a while.

While Mr Atwater is still beginning to make his way, there are some hold-over central office administrators that continue to make decisions that defy common sense and just might reflect a hostile attitude toward employees. One decision prohibits the children of teachers from using a school as a bus stop. The situation occurs mostly at Middle and High Schools. Starting times in those places are a bit earlier than at elementary schools, so buses are able to make two trips - the earlier one takes the older kids to school and then the buses leave those schools and begin their next rounds which takes the little kids to elementary schools. If a teacher takes their elementary-aged kid to the high school with them in the morning (as opposed to leaving the kids home alone and responsible for getting to the neighborhood bus stop on their own), they are not allowed to put their kids on those now empty buses at the middle/high schools. The parents must drive their kids to the next stop, where those same buses that have just left the school where the parent teaches, can now can pick up the kid. This silly rule is inconvenient and just takes away from a teacher's valuable time getting prepped for a class, working individually with a student, or maybe having that last chance for a couple of hours of using the bathroom.

I mean what is the point? Is the district afraid of showing teachers any favoritism? So what would it really matter if the kid could just get on the bus? Is there anyone in the community who would actually complain about this?

By now most of you have read about the 6-year-old cub scout in Delaware that was given a 45 day suspension that was to be served in a reform school because he brought his new and nifty eating utensil that included a spork and a small knife to school. The same district suspended another little-bitty when her aunt sent a birthday cake to school that also included a knife for cutting it. The kid promptly gave the cake and knife to the teacher, who then used the knife to cut the cake, but then reported it to the principal, who said the district's policy required suspension without discretion.

It's just an illustration of how those who are more interested in being the bureaucrat-in-charge make senseless rules that, at best, lack common sense, and at worse, are just mean and vindictive.

I hope to hear from school district employees about other such policies here on the Kenai.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Scott 'McNasty' McLane

SOLdotnans just received a political mailing entitled with the rather official sounding Soldotna City Council Voter Information. It offers a side-by-side comparison of the four city council seats up for selection this coming Tuesday.

But it is not an official brochure. It's from Scott McLane and it presents a bitter and warped perspective of the four candidates that are running to re-examine the Knight Drive cemetery location decision. Each and every one of the challengers are characterized as being unwilling to compromise on this issue. How would one compromise? Bury half of a corpse in Redoubt and the other half in Knight Drive? It is just as reasonable to conclude that each of the incumbents are unwilling to compromise as they refuse to consider the Redoubt site.

Three of the challengers are said to have been "coerced by Peggy Mullin to run at the last minute". If anyone thinks that Peggy could force Dale B or Nels A to do anything that they didn't want to do, there's a condo across from the police station that you should consider buying. I don't know much about Brenda H, but I hope that we are all adults here and can respect the decisions of other grown-ups.

To think that Dale or Nels will be one-issue candidates is also a joke. Nels has been involved in local politics for years and certainly has the experience, understanding and knowledge of the community that it is laughable to think that he will be only about the cemetery.

The same with Dale. He has been involved at many levels of local politics for years and years. It's actually kind of funny that he is running on a platform with Peggy Mullen as I would be willing to bet that the two of them will butt heads about almost every other issue to come before the council.

Each and every one of the incumbents has three or four community service accomplishment shout-outs listed (none of the opposition, according to McNasty, ever did one nice thing in their lives).

The small print at the bottom of the mailing mentions that no other candidate authorized the info on McLane's advertisement. That's a good thing. Participation in such a negative, slanted, and misleading campaign is reason enough not to vote for someone.

And in Scott's case, he has now lost any credibility and now has become a bit of a sleaze.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Soldotna City Council Showdown

I hope you all do get out to vote this Tuesday - it's your chance to have some influence on the direction that SOLdotna takes.

The big issue is the location of the cemetery. I've written about the absurdities of the search for the cemetery site often on this blog. For the record, I began with no particular notion of where it should be. As I've said before, I want my carcass placed on a pyre, Viking and Hindu style, and set adrift on a nearby bay. It would be way cool to throw some fireworks on the pile too. As far as a burial in SOLdotna, at least one close family member and a few friends have expressed their belief that being laid to rest here would be a guarantee that they would spend eternity in hell.

So, as a neutral side-liner, I need to be convinced by sound logic and analytic reason. Those opposed to the Redoubt site have done little to win me over. All of their arguments reek of NIMBY. There will be no excess pollution from embalming fluids; there will be no connecting road through the MOR (Mooring on the River) subdivision; the MORons' property value will not go down; funeral processions can be coordinated with school schedules to avoid traffic problems; and the 500' from a school demand that Councilman McLane made was quickly abandoned when someone pointed out that the Knight Drive property was also within that distance of a school (and besides, why is that even important?). The latest argument I heard is the desire to protect the integrity of the neighborhood. I see. Let's protect the integrity of the MOR subdivision by putting the cemetery in the neighborhood of someone else. Who cares about the integrity of THAT neighborhood.

If the Redoubt site was developed, the city could sell building sites and and collect taxes on what would surely be the McMansions that would spring up. That impact on the river would be a bit more than a cemetery, that's for sure. There's a few bucks to be made. Fair enough, but I we really need any more people here right now? Do we need more traffic? Do we need more people on the river? Maybe we should solve a few problems first.

And of course, we would have to pay over $300,000 to buy the Knight Drive site. We own the Redoubt site, so it would save some significant money to choose Redoubt.

Let's do a quickie side-by-side examination of the council candidates.

Seat A: Nels Anderson v Jim Stogsdill. I was disappointed when I heard Jim speak on KDLL's candidate segment and listened to him describe the cemetery site search. He conveniently left out how the committee could no longer bring up the Redoubt site in their discussions. In the election info booklet, Nels, while part of the Redoubt site slate, promises to be more than a single issue candidate.

Seat B: Brenda Hartman v Eugene Fowler. Eugene was recently appointed to finish out Shane Horan's term. Brenda is running on the Redoubt slate. While Fowler was on the Orwellian-named Unified Memorial Park Committee (unified meaning that to get on the committee, you couldn't bring up the Redoubt site)I wish Fowler had stated his point of view on the cemetery search as that is the main issue this election cycle.

Seat C: Dale Bagley v Jay Rohloff. As a former borough mayor, you would know what you are getting with Dale. Can't say I agreed with too many of his decisions in that role, but he is approachable. I don't know Jay, but friends say he really is a nice guy with some good ideas. But I can't understand his crusade against the Redoubt site as he has been one of the most vocal in the opposition of it - and all for reasons that have been discounted (see above). Jay did send out a nice postcard to SOLdotna voters. In one of his print ads, he pledges not to listen to just the vocal few. Does that mean he won't listen to himself?

Seat D: Peggy Mullen v Scott McLane. Scott did not submit any info for the election brochure, and that is troublesome. I can certainly understand a reluctance to do the whole baby-kissing, glad-handing election posturing, but I would like to know that a candidate cares enough to at least put the basics down. And I can't help but have tremendous respect for Peggy who has resided in the community since it became one. As a small business owner and as a concerned community member she has always had a sense of responsible and sustainable growth in mind. She has truly been one of the reasons why one is not completely SOL in Soldotna. At one point, Scott had some financial interest in the Knight Drive site and didn't vote on the issue because of it. He then said he divested that interest, but unless I missed it, he really didn't say how he did so.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Proposition 1 - Financial (Non)Disclosures

The only argument that has been presented in favor of approving Proposition 1, which would change what financial information elected and appointed officials in SOLdotna need to disclose, is that the current requirements are too restrictive and prevent people from running for office.

The fact that there are challengers to every city council seat this election cycle belies that claim.

There are 11 changes that would occur and I think most of them have the potential to lead to problems.

Prop 1 would raise the minimum of reported income from $1000 to $5000. Five large isn’t a lot of money, but you don’t need to have a fully functioning long-term memory to recall how cheaply some Alaska state officials sold out these past few years. And if a particular lobbying group had 5 members each pay $4999 to an official, that’s just a Lincoln short of 25 grand –serious money.

This measure would also allow officials in certain professions not to report clients who owe them ‘confidentiality obligations’. What exactly are confidentiality obligations? I don’t think we need to know who a doctor’s patients are, but in conflict-of-interest issues, it would be prudent to know who a lawyer’s clients are. And if confidentiality obligations include knowing who owes an official some money, this could also be important information in conflict-of-interest cases. To include real estate agents and financial advisers in the exemption seems to open the door to shenanigans.

The new rules would no longer require an official to report what they did to earn a specific income. Of all the changes, I have the most problem with this. Up in Anchorage, Ben Stevens received tons of money from various commercial fishing processors for…well, no ones know for what. The word on the street is that after his dad passed some sweetheart legislation, his son was rewarded. If an official receives money, I want to know what s/he did to earn it.

Another problematic change would be no longer reporting real estate property outside of the borough. Again, this opens some very real conflict-of-interest issues. If an official bought beach-front property for a few bucks in Hawaii from a developer who wanted to put a huge pig farm in Soldotna, we would never know with the new changes.

Prop 1 would no longer require officials to report close economic associations that don’t result in a source of income. So, if an official was a dues-paying member of and a major contributor to the Ku Klux Klan and financed the campaigns of folks like David Duke, well, that would be none of public’s business.

I don’t agree. While there might be some common-sense changes to the financial information we ask our city officials to disclose, these changes are not the ones we need. I think we should send this back to the council for a bit more thought and work.

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