Council Debates Attending Meetings by Phone

Wednesday, April 29 2015

City councilors spent much of a three and a half hour session Tuesday night debating whether they should be allowed to call into their own meetings from off-island.

Mayor Shirley Marquardt wants to allow up to two councilors per meeting to do that through September to start with. With several councilors traveling this summer, she's worried there won't be enough people present to take important votes.

"And we’ve got ongoing projects that we can’t hold up. So if there’s a budget amendment that needs to be made or something that has to shift, we’ve got to be able to respond to that," Marquardt said. "We’re also in the process of looking for a city manager. We’re going to be doing interviews ... and I just was very concerned that we were going to have a difficult time over the summer."

Councilors supported a temporary change, but some, like Roger Rowland, didn’t want it to become permanent. Rowland also asked the mayor to add a limit on how many times someone can call in. 

"I firmly believe that the meetings need to take place here, face-to-face, so when there’s breaks, people can talk to us," he said. "The body language, the gestures, the facial expressions, whatever -- that is part of a public meeting in my mind."

Rowland works as a small boat fisherman, and often travels to salmon fish in the summer.

"If I’m making a haul at six o’clock, I won’t be calling in, even though I have two satellite phones on my boat," he said.

Tom Enlow is another councilor who travels a lot, as president of UniSea. He wanted to try the change until September, then revisit whether to keep it. 

"We’re living in a telecommuting age, and more and more public process-type meetings are done through other media," Enlow said. "I don’t think we’re negligent in fulfilling our obligations as elected officials simply by not being physically present every second and fourth Tuesday of every month."

The ordinance will get a second reading and public hearing at the May 12 meeting.

Also on Tuesday, council gave an $89,000 contract to Stantec Architecture to design a state-mandated backflow prevention system for the city water system. And they approved the city’s capital and major maintenance plan for the next four years.

They also agreed to give the Unalaska City School District $3.9 million in city funding for 2016. That includes about a million dollars beyond the state’s cap on the local school contribution. Even so, the district is set to run a $285,000 deficit next year, mostly due to declining enrollment.

Council also got an hour-long update Tuesday night on the Unalaska Marine Center expansion project. PND Engineers is about 10 percent done with preliminary designs for upgrades to the dock and cargo crane.

They’re also helping the city work through a lengthy environmental permitting process for the project. If a federal grant comes through this year, the city could face environmental assessments that can sometimes take years.

PND will take input on the whole plan from industry users and residents at a separate public meeting. It’s scheduled for tonight, Wednesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

News Community About Site by Joseph Redmon