Saturday, April 26, 2008

Corruption in City Government

It has been six weeks since my last post on the political goings-on in Bethel, and in that interval the situation has continued to deteriorate. We have reached a point where the actions of the Mayor and selected council members can only be characterized as corrupt.

Until now I have not referred to the council members by their actual names, but have used labels for them. Several commenters have named them (and, on occasion, labeled them far more spearingly than I), and from this point on I will simply refer to them by name. I will also identify some of the labels.

The Mayor is Eric Middlebrook. He is the leader of the Block of Four and has been called Clipped Gerbil in an earlier comment, and Mayor Mugabe in a more recent one.

The Vice Mayor is Raymond “Thor” Williams. A member of the Block of Four, he was the maker of the motion to terminate the City Attorney. Referred to by a commenter as McCheese. Noted by another commenter always to be on the wrong side of every vote, along with Tundy Rodgers. He is an incredibly insecure individual who tries to make himself feel less inadequate by cutting others down (doesn’t work but he has no other strategies). He wastes an inordinate amount of Council’s time splitting hairs over insignificant issues, like making miniscule and unnecessary budget modifications. He thinks this makes him look smart. Uh…no. Raymond is one of the three current Council members who is also a former Mayor; he was a disaster in that position and could not get re-elected to the following year’s Council when he was one of four people running for three open seats. The codeword among the voters was “EBT”—everybody but Thor. He managed to get elected to the current Council with only 216 votes.

Stanley “Tundy” Rodgers, also a former Mayor and member of the Block of Four; referred to by me as the Blustering Bloviator. That’s all he ever does: bluster. He sees himself as the champion of the little man, the watchdog of the Natives’ interests. He is the Council member with the most seniority, having sat on Council for something like seventeen years, and in all that time he has done absolutely nothing positive for Bethel or its citizens that I have been able to discover, and I have been asking long-time residents. He is quick to trash other people’s ideas and suggestions, but he offers nothing positive himself. He just votes against everything; that way if something doesn’t work out later he can say “see? I was against it all along.” He is incapable of understanding or contributing to the city’s budget approval process; he simply does not show up to those (mandatory) meetings, or leaves early if he does show—yelling as he walks out “doesn’t matter what you decide, I’m going to vote against it anyhow!” It is totally unclear to me why the voters of Bethel have continued to reelect him so many times, but it has to stop. He has to go. He is up for reelection in October; perhaps we’ll be lucky and he simply won’t run again, but I doubt it. He has no other source of ego gratification.

Willie Keppel, the Newly Appointed Council Member. He ran for Council last fall but was defeated by Raymond Williams by 2 votes. When a now-departed Council member moved away from Bethel in January, he applied for appointment to the position along with several others, and when the vote was evenly split, received the appointment by literally drawing the right straw. He is only there for the remainder of the departed member’s term, and must run for election in October. He is the final member of the Group of Four, and along with Tundy, he simply must not be reelected.

Keppel is the Council member referred to by commenter Two Dogs as Torch, because he is widely believed to have set fire to a wooden building owned by his arch-rival Harry Faulkner, the citizen who brought the injunction against him for Conflict of Interest in participating in the termination of the City Attorney. Keppel not only voted for her termination, he seconded the motion to terminate when it was made by Raymond Williams. (No update on that injunction; it hasn’t gone away, but nothing has happened as a result of it that I know of.)

Keppel is the Council member who is and long has been in violation of the Bethel Municipal Code (BMC), and who faces $18,000 in fines for that violation. His case was being prosecuted by the City Attorney; he believed that by firing her the case would magically go away. The Conflict of Interest in this situation is neither subtle nor complicated.

And his violation is particularly disgusting. All Bethel residents are required by the BMC to have their homes signed up for sewer evacuation service, either hauled or piped, at a minimal cost of about $30 per month. For years Keppel refused to sign up; he crapped in a bucket and was seen dumping it in the tundra pond behind his house, which is right in the middle of town. The city even gave him a sewer tank for free AND delivered it to his house. All he had to do was hook it up, but no. It has sat there, a lovely eyesore, for several years now.

The BMC was created by the City Council, and during the swearing-in ceremony of each new Council member, he or she is sworn to uphold and abide by the Code. There is no gray area here; Keppel’s violation is clear-cut, obvious, provable. His hearing in court is on Monday, April 28th. In the absence of a City Attorney, the City Manager will present the city’s case.

And here is one place where we reach a level of misbehavior that can be called corruption in this City Council. At the regular meeting of the Council which Dutch and I missed while we were in the Arctic, the Mayor actually pressured the City Manager to just dismiss Keppel’s case. Middlebrook actually seemed to think that the City Manager could be coerced into just telling the judge that the city didn’t want to prosecute after all, and it would all go away. In his view, apparently, Council members are exempt from the Code they are sworn to uphold, rather than having the responsibility to lead by example.

The second, and far more significant, situation vying for the label of corruption involves the recall petitions, which I have mentioned before. After the debacle of the firing of the City Attorney, a grass-roots movement of citizens came forward wanting Middlebrook and Williams recalled. Rodgers and Keppel were not eligible for recall, or they would have been included as well. One woman, Diane Moffitt, took the lead in asking people to sign up as petition circulators to gather the necessary 285 signatures of registered voters to place the recall question before the citizens of Bethel.

There were 12 of us who signed up to be petition circulators. We had sixty days to get the signatures, and then the petitions must be turned in to the City Clerk to have the signatures verified as registered voters.

Middlebrook and Williams have acted as if this recall movement were nothing but a joke, and have been openly scornful of it. Middlebrook instructed the City Clerk to be sure the petitions were handled according to the precise letter of the law.

When we had over 300 signatures, Diane asked the City Clerk how the 12 of us go about turning in our petitions. The Clerk said for each of us to bring them in to her office at our convenience. After about half of the petitions had been turned in, the Clerk announced that the petition had failed due to insufficient signatures; only the petitions turned in together counted, the remaining five or six would not be accepted. The Clerk refused to return them to the individuals who had submitted them to her, so that we could turn them all in at once, saying it was “against the law”; but she could not quote what law it was against. We have a week yet before the deadline of May 2nd.

The Clerk is now denying her initial instructions on how to turn the petitions in. She is saying that she never told us to bring them in to her office at our convenience. She is refusing to do the right thing, which is to return the petitions that were submitted so that we can all turn them in together as a single instrument. Several of the circulators consulted an attorney who said there is absolutely no reason she cannot return those petitions. It was he who said that this is nothing but corruption.

Those same circulators have now contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, who feels that this is pure suppression of the voice of the people. The ACLU is writing a letter to the Clerk, telling her basically to do the right thing: give back the submitted petitions and allow all of them to be turned in together. If she refuses, litigation will follow.

So once again, Bethel’s scarce resources can be squandered by the Council to cover their heinous and illegal behaviors. The Group of Four is leading Bethel down a road which will end in bankruptcy for the city. Those of us trying to apply the brakes may not be enough.

A new comment was posted by Anonymous this past Monday evening to the last blog post I did on the City Council. It speaks to these issues, and is now likely to go completely unseen, being so deeply buried, so I have copied it here.

This evening on the news I heard Mayor Eric "Mugabe" Middlebrook at a council meeting last week pressuring the city manager to release Councilman Willie Keppel from his civil penalties by instructing the judge to dismiss the case. This was after Keppel failed to observe city ordinances and hook up to the city sewer system. Instead he dumped his sewage in the tundra. The kind of example that could lead us all to cholera. He ignored citations served him by the city that have been well documented. Mayor "Mugabe" as we have come to know him, also instructed the City Clerk to throw out citizen petitions to recall him and another city council representative. These council members swore to uphold the laws of this City and by extension the laws of our state and nation. They are so deep into this mess that they lost whatever ethical perspective they might have once possessed.

I agree completely.

For those of you who might be new to this thread—and who have enough interest to read more—I have written four posts in the last two months on the outrageousness of Bethel’s current City Council:

Political Shenanigans, February 13

More Bethel Politics, March 2

City Council Doesn’t Get It, March 15

More on City Council—An Inside Perspective, March 17

And for those of you don’t live in Southwest Alaska and could care less about our local political woes, I beg your indulgence with this diversion. It is having a huge effect in our lives, and if this venue I have created can reach a few people who need to hear of this and might not by other means, then I will use it for that purpose.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I heard that same clip on the news, and I'm sure its archived as an mp3, but only gives you the most recent news broadcast or I'd link to it here. He did overtly tell the city manager that he should tell the judge that they don't want the money anymore, to forget about it. The manager says he can't tell the judge that and they sort of quibble over it for a minute. I totally wondered what the justification was, and wondered why KYUK didn't say what it was, or say that there WASN'T one instead of just not even addressing the question. I hope they get recalled. And beyond that, I hope the voters in Bethel can care enough to vote and LEARN who they should be voting for next time. When we keep electing the wrong people we've noone to blame but ourselves. TundraPA, I'm sure you didn't vote for most of these turkeys, but the fact is the majority of voters did. Us voters make bad choices sometimes -- I certainly have. I'm not just talking about Bethel. Murkowski beat Ulmer for governor several years ago on nothing but bluster and false promises and threats that a child should have been able to see through. Hoo boy. Don't get me started on that though. Ulmer lost because she was honest and laid her true cards on the table and said it was hypothetically possible that there could one day be an income tax under her administration if declining revenues continued. At one point I was consumed with the desire for vengeance and wanted to create a site dedicated to tarnishing Murkowski's legacy. I saved damning quotes (remember how the statewide sales tax proposal didn't break his "no new taxes" campaign pledge because "You don't have to spend money if you don't want to"), newspaper clips, and I wanted to find some of those "protect your PFD, vote Murkowski" signs for posterity. After a few years and some letting go I've abandoned the website idea. : - )

Saturday, April 26, 2008 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you see that Wally Baird applied for the Nome City Manager job? What a shame... the city needs people like him but the city council doesn't help out their retention.

Saturday, April 26, 2008 11:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have listened to council on KYUK since moving to Bethel 5 years ago. I never miss unless I am out of town. I have heard the different councils make some really stupid decisions that showed they were out of touch with what they considered the people wanted, but I have never been so embarrassed as I have for the last 4 months. There has always been council members with a personal agenda, which is to be expected to some degree. But in the past 5 years, most of those council members were smart enough to operate in the "gray area", to do things in a way where they were walking a fine line, (not that I think that's the way things should be done.) These 4 idiots don't even have the common sense to try to make it seem like they are walking a fine line in the gray area. They have even talked about how Bethel has such a bad rep in other parts of the state and the need to reverse how people think of us. Yeah, this is how you go about it. I can already hear the excuses they seem to have a neverending supply of. I bet one of the excuses will be...."I'm only doing what my constituents want me to do". What your "constituents" want you to do is to finally make some decisions that are important to OUR lives, not yours.
Because of these antics, we have and are losing key people who do care what happens in the community. I listened to the council meeting where Wally Baird was called a "liar" by the thumping Tundy. AND I listened to the little dictator announce how he would take action against the gallery expressing agreement with one of the 3 council members, during the last council meeting. I guess they weren't some of HIS constituents. No wonder Wally wants to separate himself from such a wonderful working environment. I hope that he also is able to leave on his own terms, not council's.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Ugliness is ugliness, whenever and wherever it shows itself. Best of luck to all of you who have to deal with that sort of slime.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 3:22:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. This council has had an excellent city administration to work with, and they are doing everything they can to drive the entire administration out of Bethel. At a time when most people generally acknowledge that city services, and the city as a whole are running better than ever.

Several Council members stated publicly two months ago that they were going to get rid of City Manager Wally Baird. He has done an excellent job and has been very good for Bethel. Tundy calling him a liar was despicable. Wally is an honorable man and in no way deserves the treatment he has received from the Block of Four. It is no surprise he has applied elsewhere, and no surprise that Nome offered him the job if he wants it.

Likewise, Public Works Director Wayne Ogle has done excellent work for Bethel. And he is leaving. Along with the utilities maintenance foreman, Greg Sargent, who is already gone. It is no secret that the City Planner, Rick Abboud is looking elsewhere, and the Port Director, Lee Foley, probably will also. The best City Clerk we've had in many years, Sandra Modigh, left a few months ago, and her replacement, Lori Strickler, does not seem to be measuring up; Stickler has already sold out her integrity in the way she has handled the recall petitions--most likely at the direct instruction of the Mayor, but that is conjecture.

So who will be left to run Bethel? The Fire Chief, George Young, who spends his mornings drinking coffee at AC and shooting the breeze with his cronies, but who can't manage to show up for the biggest fire Bethel has had in 20 years (the Crow property)? He was "managing" that one from home. And for this he is paid nearly $100 thousand a year? Am I the only one who has a problem with that?

This City Council is driving Bethel into a deep dark hole. The repercussions will last for years. And this Mayor, Eric Middlebrook, thinks he can win Mary Sattler Nelson's seat in Juneau? Lord, protect us! He is a disaster here; he'd be a worse one down there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Boondoc said...

You sure know a lot about the local politics! Have you considered running for the counsel? I'm also an Alaska resident in the medical field. check out my blog if you get a chance. Keep up the good writing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Margie said...

I feel your pain! Is this small town America or just small town Alaska? Hoonah isn't much better I'm afraid. There are times when staying home and banging your head against the wall would accomplish as much as going to the city council meetings, your head still hurts when it's over. But what can you do...........keep banging away!

Sunday, May 04, 2008 9:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sunday, May 04, 2008 12:27:00 PM  

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