Bethel city council advances private investigation of city contracts and staff

by Ben Matheson on February 12, 2014

The Bethel City council moved ahead with a private investigation into city contracts and personnel issues at a meeting last night, and Lee Foley is still the Bethel City manager. The council did not take up his evaluation during executive session late last night, and that’s because they are moving ahead with a look into several contracts he played a part in as city manger, among other issues.

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After coming out of executive session shortly after 11 p.m., the council unanimously passed a motion to launch the outside investigation. Councilmember Rick Robb was not in attendance.

The council asked for investigation of employee complaints about possible inappropriate intimidation of employees by management. They called for a legal analysis of the city ordinance concerning nepotism, and the current violations.

They call out specific city contracts, like the demolition of the police station, all contracts with former finance director Bobby Sutton both prior to his departure and after that as a consultant. They will look at any agreements or lack thereof for use of city property by private individuals.

They also want an accounting of leave hours by salaried city employees who are outside the collective bargaining agreement. Council member Mark Springer explained the situation.

“The council has got some very serious concerns about a number of issues that are delineated in this motion. We believe it is in the best interest the city and the best interest of the council that we have an independent, qualified third party examine this,” said Springer.

A focus of the many executive sessions is thought to be nepotism and the current instances of unlawful employment of family. Council member Heather Pike said that example starts from the top.

“I will be the first one to formally step up and resign as an example to the city if the recommendation comes back from the attorney that that is nepotism..because of my significant other that currently works for a city department, I will step down immediately as a council member. I think it’s fair enough to be said and leave it at that,” said Pike.

In the people to be heard section, Bethel residents defended the city manager, amid a concern that Foley may be forced out. His son works in the city’s IT department. Local contractor Harry Faulkner, who has done many city contracts, spoke about continuity.

“What really upsets me is this contrast forever cycle of replacing department heads and city officials. I’m just absolutely sick of it. I’ve been here 51 years and I’ve seen councils and city managers, public works directors, finance directors, and chiefs of police come and go until I’m just sick of it,” said Faulkner.

The council could spend up to $40,000 on the investigation. They are asking the city attorney to reach out to third parties on an emergent basis, that means the council can do work without a formal RFP process. Council member Springer said the council intended the investigation to be an attorney-client work product. It would be at the council’s discretion to make it public or not.

In other action, the city is looking to get some hard numbers on building a road around H-Marker Lake to connect the donut hole. They are looking at building a 3000-foot road from the end of Gunder’s way to connect to Tundra Ridge road. They will seek detailed information on that, which in early estimates range from 680 thousand to nearly 1.4 million dollars, that is before any costs from easements or land acquisition.

The council approved a management contract for the $4 million bank stabilization project at the port to DOWL-HKM. They also transferred the city’s wind energy grants, totaling over 3 million dollars to the Alaska Village Electric Coop, which is taking over BUC.

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