Debate begins over borough manager switch

Jul 3, 2019

 


If Tuesday night’s meeting was any kind of an indication, changing borough management from a strong mayor style to a manager style of governance is going to be a tough sell to voters. 

The proposal was simply up for introduction, which is usually a quick and painless matter. But a number of mayor Charlie Pierce’s supporters in attendance felt that typically uncontroversial step was an attack on the mayor. Paul Huber of Nikiski was among those who didn’t want to see the matter even introduced for a future public hearing.

“It seems to me this is personally driven. And it’s also the way to change the results of an election, which should be considered.”

Twelve of the state’s 19 boroughs employ a manager to administer day-to-day operations. In this proposal, a mayor would still be elected by borough voters, would lead assembly meetings, would vote on matters in the case of a tie and would keep the authority to issue vetoes. Even Pierce is on record supporting that kind of a role for the mayor. He co-sponsored a similar ordinance back in 2010 while on the assembly. That was during the Dave Carey administration and just before the election of Mike Navarre in 2011.

 

For those in support, one of the claimed advantages is continuity between elections. They argue there would be less employee turnover and less worry about a new mayor cleaning house. Carrie Henson used to work for the borough and favors the switch.

“One of the commenters earlier said that they felt like they could relax now that Charlie Pierce was mayor. And I have the absolute opposite reaction. I felt that way when Mike Navarre was mayor. I felt like I could relax, especially as a borough employee. It is very hard for just whoever to get elected and manage 300 employees and millions of dollars.”

Several long-term employees left the borough after Pierce’s election in 2017. Some of those were at the request of the administration and included severance packages, the financial details of which remain confidential. Another dismissal was found to be without cause and recently cost the borough more than $150,000.

 

The motion to introduce the ordinance passed by a 7-2 vote. A public hearing will be held August 6th. If it passes the assembly again, the question would go on the fall ballot for voters to decide.