Bethel City Council delays action on nepotism rules

by Ben Matheson on February 26, 2014

The Bethel City Council last night voted down a change in city code for employing family members within the city. The Council pointed to unclear language, such as who precisely is the city in determining conflicts of interest. There are also different definitions of relative within city code. One reference in code simply points to a person related by blood or marriage.

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The council wants the city attorney to do a complete rewrite of the sections concerning personnel issues, especially as there in an ongoing discussion of the negotiated agreement. Council member Mark Springer noted the potential for confusion.

“I think we may be causing potentially more difficulty with those conflicts than we would be if we waited little bit longer to be able to tie all of this together,” said Springer.

As it stands, no city employee can be supervised by relative. There also can be no employees related to the city manager, council members, or a relative of a department head in the area they work. There are current violations among staff and council. Council Member Sharon Sigmon expressed her opposition to the changes as written.

“Part of the reason of the change in this ordinance, I’m going to be very honest, it looks like it’s just trying to rewrite the law to fit the situation, and I’m very opposed to doing something like that,” said Sigmon.

The city attorney, Patty Burly, added that anything new can’t be applied retroactively.

“Whatever may have or is in effect is what it is. This is tomorrow. This is not today or yesterday,” said Burly.

As the council’s investigation into personnel issues and nepotism proceeds, Council member Heather Pike brought up what was reported to be former Police Chief Elarton’s resignation letter in which it was evidently implied that direction was given from the City Council to terminate him.

“That was not what anyone on this council did, that was not said. I apologize, but I feel so strongly about it. It was gut wrenching, it was heartbreaking to read those words,” said Pike.

City Manager Lee Foley updated the council on the upcoming budget, which is projected to see an $800,000 revenue shortfall.

“And that’s going to take a close hard look at personnel and how we can adjust,” said Foley.

In other action, the city accepted a $196,000 grant from YKHC’s Diabetes program for exercise equipment at the new pool and fitness facilities. The city will submit for a Rasmussen Foundation Grant for $698 thousand dollars for furniture and equipment at the pool.

The council introduced a budget medication to contribute $130,000 to cover a shortfall in Denali Commission funding to do design work on a sheet piling wall along Brown’s Slough. The council also advanced a transfer of $99 thousand dollars for seawall maintenance work to address sunken pipes that hold up the seawall.

The council finished by going into executive session for discussion of the collective bargaining agreement.

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