New hiring practices for department heads in Kenai considered

May 3, 2018


The means of selecting or letting go department heads in the city of Kenai could be changing.

The council discussed an ordinance at its meeting Wednesday night that would reclassify positions at the head of city departments to allow for potentially higher salaries than city code currently  permits. One of the goals is to expand pools of recruits for such jobs. The flip side of the ordinance as it’s written now is that the city manager has a wide berth when it comes to letting those same employees go. That didn’t sit well with council member Mike Boyle.

“If I lose that protection that the employee has to take a department (head) position and I can be let go at the whim of one individual, I’m going to think long and hard before taking a position like that.”

City attorney Scott Bloom explained that for a couple different reasons, there is limited oversight to such personnel changes.

“One is to make sure that the termination or suspension is not illegal based on protected class or something like that. The second reason for that is our current agreement with our insurance company requires that the city attorney or another attorney review all terminations of city employees prior to termination.”

That nearly unilateral authority to hire and fire was cause for concern from several council member, despite the fact that many other municipalities operate in a similar fashion, including the borough. Henry Knackstedt voiced the concerns of many on the council, agreeing in principal, but with reservations that such broad authority could do the opposite of what’s intended and discourage applicants from taking those lead roles.

“It seems like it could be pretty reasonable, but I think there could be some concerns that are legitimate. But it does give the city manager tools he may need down the road.”

The council will deal with this ordinance down the road. It’s been postponed until the next meeting May 16th.