Saturday, March 15, 2008

City Council Doesn't Get It

Tuesday night’s Regular Meeting of the Bethel City Council was lacking in the kind of big drama that has attended the meetings since the firing of the City Attorney, but was rife with subtle elements that continue to underscore the sad state this Council is in, and the continued importance to the citizens of ousting the Block of Four. They are still thugs, they are still working against the best interests of the citizens of Bethel, and they still don’t get it.

Many, though not all, of the votes of the Council are falling out in a four to three split with the Block of Four driving what they want. A listing of the players and their physical arrangement may be helpful. The arrangement matters because it has a powerful psychological effect, both on the Members themselves and on the audience watching.

Council is seated on a high dais behind a six foot tall wall of oak plywood; all that we in the gallery can see of them is their head and shoulders. They sit in a V configuration with the Mayor at the center. He and the three Members on his left constitute the Block of Four: the Newly Appointed Council Member (NACM), who is a convicted felon and is currently in violation of the Bethel Municipal Code with an $18,000 fine pending; the maker of the motion to fire the City Attorney, who is also the Vice Mayor, and who comes across as an insecure individual who likes to try to make himself feel smart by focusing on insignificant minutia of budget details while avoiding the big picture of far more important matters all together; and the Blustering Bloviator who rants on about “protecting the children” and “hugging an elder” without ever contributing anything positive or substantive to whatever discussion is occurring.

On the Mayor’s right are the three who have worked to counteract the actions of the Block of Four: the Recent Former Mayor (not to be confused by the fact that two of the Block of Four are also former mayors but will not be referred to here as such) who has his own baggage of political difficulties from his time in the central seat, but who has made reasoned and rational arguments (often ignored) about the current issues and who has an obscure sense of humor which can occasionally work foot into mouth; and the two women Council Members, the Voice of Youth who is newly elected, bright, well spoken, and has good insight and sterling intentions; and the Good Hearted Restauranteur, who is sometimes giggling but earnest, also well-intentioned, and often needs clarification.

At the Tuesday night meeting, Dutch again rose as a Person To Be Heard (the first portion of every meeting) and spoke eloquently about the fact that even the wording in the Council’s own agenda reflects the divisive attitude of the Council towards the city administration. The City of Bethel and the Bethel City Council are on two separate paths, with the Council in a “gotcha!” mode trying to destroy the administration. (Members of the Block of Four have privately stated in poker-game conversations which get reported around town that they fully intend to follow the City Attorney’s termination with that of the City Manager; many people expect that the Public Works Director, the Port Director and the City Planner will be the next ones in line. Make it a full sweep of the city administration.)

Dutch also noted in his comments that the Voice of Youth is the only Council member who understands the importance of restructuring the chain of command which has the City Attorney reporting to the City Council. Voice of Youth stated at the previous meeting (and it was ignored) that the ordinance defining the City Attorney’s position needs to be changed to have the City Attorney, as head of the Department of Legal Services, reporting to the City Manager as all other Department heads do. And she is right.

Dutch pointed out that the first question every lawyer is trained to ask is “Who is my client?” In the City Attorney’s position, the answer is “The City of Bethel.” Not the City Council. By reporting to the Council, the City Attorney has seven bosses, not one, which is a situation ripe for disaster, especially when—as now—one of the Council members has a legal conflict with the city. The NACM actually thought firing the City Attorney would make his case, and his $18,000 fine, disappear, since there would be no staff attorney to prosecute it. Let’s see, does that mean he had a conflict of interest in voting for her termination? As Dutch said to the Council a few weeks ago, yeah; even our dog Bear gets that one.

The NACM’s somewhat whiney response to Dutch’s comment was that if the City Attorney reported to the City Manager, where would the Council members get their free legal advice without the City Manager knowing about it? Hmmm, let me think about that. Would that be advice on how to violate the Bethel Municipal Code without getting caught or fined?

Dutch told the Council that until they do the restructuring of the City Attorney’s position, they are not going to find another lawyer willing to take the job. Any lawyer considering it would naturally ask “What happened to the last person in this position?” Oh, she was fired AT WHIM for non-existent reasons without warning or due process? Thanks, but no thanks. Of course, the City Council ignored his comments, as they did the Voice of Youth’s on this matter. Perhaps when six or eight months go by and the position remains unfilled, they will start to get it. Or not.

Another indicator that the City Council just doesn’t get it concerned the injunction that was brought against the Council by a citizen of Bethel for the illegal manner in which the NACM was appointed. In a statement that surprised many, the City Manager revealed that the injunction was withdrawn. Most of us assumed that the reason involved some sort of rewriting and that it would be resubmitted. The Recent Former Mayor addressed his colleagues on the Council and said that regardless of the presence of an injunction, the Council had acted wrongly and needed to correct that action. They should move ahead to do so.

The Mayor immediately responded (with his head buried firmly in the sand), “No! Absolutely not! The issue is off the table, we don’t have to do anything.” He was practically doing a happy dance over what he chose to interpret as a stroke of good fortune. The issue of doing something because it is the right thing to do was completely outside his thinking. The man lacks integrity, and this is the primary reason for the recall petition which is circulating to remove him from the Council.

The city has retained a temporary legal advisor in Anchorage to deal with pressing issues until the vacant City Attorney position is filled. When he was consulted about the injunction, rumor has it that he advised that the best course of action was for the NACM to simply step down voluntarily. Of course, the felon will never do that; he is walking around town so puffed up with his self-importance as a Council member that if you stuck a pin in him he’d shoot into the air like a balloon.

And that is precisely the problem with the entire Block of Four. They are all sitting on that dais purely to serve their own egos, their own sense of power and their own pride. They are not there out of a commitment to make Bethel a better place, to bring wisdom and guidance to the city’s path to the future, to make hard decisions about what is best for all the citizens of our quirky little town. Three of the Council members do seem to be there for those reasons, and for that I applaud them. They need to be joined by four new faces who are there for those reasons as well.

As expected, the injunction was re-filed a few days after the Council meeting. It had been rewritten to include the state statute known as OMA, or Open Meetings Act. This statute prohibits three or more Council members from privately meeting and/or discussing Council business. The lawyer for the citizen bringing the injunction stated that he purposely waited to refile until after the Council meeting to give the Council the opportunity to do the right thing on their own. Of course they didn’t, even though Recent Former Mayor tried to lead them to it. Integrity aside, if the Mayor had even the slightest bit of political savvy, he would have seen this coming, known the injunction would be refiled, and done the right thing whether he wanted to or not. He would have asked NACM to step down and led the Council in appointing a new member according to the rules. This man has no business occupying Bethel’s legislative seat in Juneau; he has no integrity and no political skill.

A few days ago, an anonymous commenter on this blog made a very interesting recommendation. He is clearly knowledgeable about legal issues and well informed on the situation here in Bethel. His comment was attached to the first post I did about this deep pool of muck, and so is now buried where it is unlikely to be seen by many. I want to bring it forward for current readers to ponder.

The citizens of Bethel need to bring another court injunction, this time against the council as a whole. The injunction should be written to show that the city council violated the Open Meetings Act and behaved in a capricious and arbitrary manner in dismissing the City Attorney, likely violating the City of Bethel's own bylaws. The injunction should allege and could make a case for conspiracy of some council members to defraud and act against the interests of the citizens of Bethel. The legal motion would be a preliminary injunction against the council and against some individual members of the council. This preliminary injunction would prevent the council from taking any further capricious and arbitrary actions against city employees and require council to comply with the Open Meeting Act and city bylaws and practices. This would be followed within a few weeks with a permanent injunction bringing about permanent restraint, unless the defendants (council) could show reasonable cause as to why their behavior should not be restrained. A restraining order would be issued by a judge and then the court could become involved in reversing any further ill adventures of the felon and friends. This would be faster than a class action suit against council, which should follow in due course to recoup the costs that all citizens will bear for the lawsuit that the council has brought upon the city. Meanwhile the preliminary injunction and the permanent injunction that follows would limit future damages. A reasonable person has to act in a way to limit damages, and the citizens of Bethel are reasonable enough to know that their city council has run amok and is dragging them down with it.

He is absolutely right. Reasonable people must act in a way to limit damages. I discussed his comment with the former City Attorney, and she agreed with him, but said the problem was in proving the violation of the OMA. We all know they violated it; the breathtaking speed with which the NACM seconded the Vice Mayor’s motion for immediate termination was a loud signal that this was all pre-arranged. The problem is in proving it. Without proof the suit would be considered frivolous and would open the bringers of the suit to damages.

At this point, reasonable people are lining up to sign the recall petitions for the Mayor and the Vice Mayor. The NACM and Blustering Bloviator cannot be recalled at this time because of the timing of their terms. Both must stand for re-election in October. Only 285 signatures are required (25% of the vote in the last election) for the recall petitions to bring about an opportunity for the citizens of Bethel to vote on removing them from their Council seats or allowing them to remain. Signing the petition is step 1; showing up to vote is step 2. And voting in the regular election in October is step 3. In a town of 6,000, less than 1,200 voted in the last election. The Vice Mayor was elected to his Council seat by 216 votes. That is pretty pathetic. Dutch got more votes than that when he ran for Student Council in high school. The Voice of Youth, on the other hand, received over 800 votes, and she has shown herself worthy of the people’s trust in voting for her.

There are 12 people in Bethel circulating the recall petitions. One woman had a table set up at the main grocery store last weekend and probably will again. Another planned to have copies available at today’s Saturday market. There is some discussion of holding a door-to-door campaign through all of Bethel’s neighborhoods to give as many people as possible the chance to sign.

The Block of Four apparently thought that Bethel is so mired in political apathy that they could do what ever outlandish thing they wanted and no one would notice, or care. Clearly, they were wrong.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wish I could say it was different in my village... or just other villages in general...

Can't... but I can wish.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 7:47:00 AM  

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