Sunday, January 17, 2010

Local Politics: Social Responsibility vs. Creating Public Policy By Ham-Fisted Coercion

Forgive me in advance, but some history is required.
After having been passed by the Kenai City Council on December 16, 2009, Resolution 2009-68, which would add Kenai as a signatory to The Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact was up for a reconsideration vote during the January 6, 2010.  You can learn more about it here.
During reconsideration of a previous vote, public testimony isn't scheduled. In fact, the City Council Agenda, published in the Peninsula Clarion, specifically stated that there would be no public testimony taken.
But Mayor Pat Porter and council members Joe Moore and Barry Eldridge oppose the measure.
They'll have to explain why they do, I can't speak for them.

Personally, I happen to think that the measure is a proactive approach by Alaskan coastal communities, and is relatively benign, regardless of one's feelings about global climate change or its causes. The cities of Petersburg, Homer, Dillingham, Gustavus, Seward, the City and Borough of Sitka, and the municipality of Juneau are all signatories. The Kenai Peninsula Borough was a signatory, but rescinded their action at the January 5 Assembly meeting. Again, you'll have to ask them why, I can't fathom it.

So Porter, Moore and Eldridge had the meeting packed with like-minded citizens, all intent on having their say to defeat, under reconsideration, the already-passed measure. Since public testimony was closed, their plan was to allow each person three minutes under the “Unscheduled Public Comments” (a portion of every meeting's agenda).
Except that's against the rules.
Unscheduled public comments are reserved solely for items not on the agenda.
Now, Mayor Porter knows all about this rule.
She invoked it during last year's MAPS rezoning, interrupting and publicly scolding people affected by the rezone who attempted to comment when the MAPS  rezone issue was on the agenda.
So it wasn't ignorance on her part. It was a connivance.
But something happened that Porter didn't foresee:
When she set her "testimony" plan in action, Council member Mike Boyle (very properly) called a point of order, noting that holding what amounted to a public hearing using the “unscheduled public comments” part of the agenda would be inappropriate, and possibly even illegal under Alaska's Open Meetings law.
The Mayor, who chairs meetings, overruled Mr. Boyle's point of order.
Boyle appealed the chair's ruling to the entire Council, and he was upheld by a vote of 4-3.
Council members Boyle, Marquis, Molloy and Smalley voted “yea,” Porter, Moore & Eldridge voted “nay.”
Thus, Porter's ruling was overturned, and no testimony (con or pro) would be taken by improperly using  “unscheduled public comments.”
Immediately after the Mayor's ruling was overturned, Councilman Molloy (the sponsor of Resolution 2009-68) moved that the measure be postponed to the January 20, 2010 meeting, in order to have a yet another properly-noticed public hearing. That motion also passed by a 4-3 vote, with Porter, Moore & Eldridge voted opposed. In fact, member Joe Moore (attending telephonically) was so angry that he threw a temper-tantrum and quit the rest of the meeting.  Why didn't Porter, Moore and Eldridge want a properly noticed public hearing?  I don't know, I can only surmise.
If you can suffer through it, watch the meeting here.
Now you're caught up... and I haven't even got to the point of this post:

A ham-fisted attempt to affect public policy by threat and coercion.
I know. Right now you're probably saying “wtf?” to yourself.
Let me explain.
Since the initial passage of this resolution, council members and the City Clerk have been inundated with emails.  Lots of emails.
Some are in support of the resolution and  the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact itself, some are against both the resolution and compact, and take issue with global climate change itself.
Some of the “against” emails are pretty blunt.
They range from the “passage of this will hurt our local industries” to “if you pass this I'll never vote for you  again and/or I'll work for your defeat in the next election.”
That's understandable. It comes with the territory for any elected  official, you aren't going to make everyone happy.
But the nastiness of one particular "anti-resolution" email jumped out at me.
It was penned by a man named Dennis Gifford, an employee of the Tesoro Alaskan Refinery in Nikiski, and the message was sent from his company email address.
He wrote:
“In closing, I will do my civic part; I will not support anyone in any re-election campaign, that signs on to this compact. I will actively help any person running against them; with my wallet, and in any discussion with friends, family and co-workers. I will pursue the company I work for, to reduce any donations to the community of Kenai (why should they support a community that no longer supports us?).  (emphasis mine)
Other than the fact that he's Mayor Pat Porter's son-in-law,  I really don't know much about Mr. Gifford.
He might be a bigshot with Tesoro Alaskan Refinery, and in a position to actually deliver on his threat. Or, perhaps he is just another cog in the machine, and this is an act of self-aggrandizement on his part (or to make his mother-in-law happy).
But threatening programs like the Boys & Girls Club, the Challenger Learning Center, “Caring for the Kenai,” and local youth sports with monetary retribution is not only out of line... it's sleazy and wrong.

Go check out the “Social Responsibility” policy page of his employer's corporate website.

“Being a dick to the community because local government doesn't do your bidding” just doesn't  seem to be part of Tesoro's published policy.