Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly members had a spirited discussion Tuesday night over a letter that had been submitted by two Assembly members as a suggested response to Gov. Sean Parnell’s comments in the community last week.
During his visit to Ketchikan, Governor Parnell said the borough’s lawsuit against the state over education funding could have repercussions for the community, specifically related to state funding for local projects. Some people interpreted that as a threat, but Parnell later told The Associated Press that he didn’t intend his comments to be taken that way, and he would not punish Ketchikan for its lawsuit.
Despite his clarification, the proposed letter of response, drafted by Assembly Members Agnes Moran and Glen Thompson, strongly questioned Parnell’s statements, and claimed that his comments diminished the borough’s trust in the state.
The letter was submitted as an agenda item, which made the draft public before the full Assembly could vote on it.
That was a major point of discussion when the Assembly did meet to talk the issue over.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey said, “I believe it is nothing less than crass, and truly an embarrassment.”
Bailey, who has not supported moving forward with the lawsuit, went on to say that the letter, and how it was submitted, did not serve the best interest of the community. He questioned the adversarial approach, and said the governor and the state need to know that the letter does not represent the opinion of the Assembly as a whole.
“Therefore, I am recommending an amended motion to condemn the tone and content of this draft letter, and to censure the writers of this document responsible for what I believe are actions which are not in the best interest of the community,” he said.
Assembly Member Moran was absent from the meeting, but Thompson was there. He defended the letter, and the method used to propose it. He said the only way to submit such a letter is publicly, because otherwise it would violate the Open Meetings Act. Thompson added that he tried to withdraw the item later, because members of the public told him it was too strongly worded, not because he changed his mind.
“I still stand behind what was said in that letter,” he said. “I think the governor abused his power as the chief executive when he threatened retaliation against citizens exercising their constitutional rights to challenge a statute in court. I think it was an egregious abuse of power that rises to the level of tyranny, and I will not go quietly into the night and I will not grovel before my government.”
Thompson said he never expected the letter to pass an Assembly vote, he just wanted to put it out there for discussion.
Other Assembly members noted that in the past, official responses from the Assembly went through a different process, where the manager asks during a meeting whether the Assembly wants to respond, and then is given direction.
Mayor Dave Kiffer said, “The writers of this letter knew that the minute they put it in the agenda, whether that’s our procedure or not, it would be out there. It wouldn’t have to pass; it wouldn’t have to get any support. It was out there. You could have gone and said, ‘Look, we want to respond to the governor. What do you all think?’”
Kiffer noted, though, that censuring Moran and Thompson seemed too strong of a response, as well. Bailey agreed to remove that part of his amendment, and it eventually passed 4-2, with Thompson and Assembly Member Mike Painter voting no.
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki proposed a second amendment directing the mayor to write a letter to Governor Parnell, clarifying that the draft letter in the agenda item did not reflect the opinion of the Assembly. That passed 5-1 with Thompson voting no.
After that long discussion, the Assembly talked about the annual Legislative Liaison Fly-In, and whether to cancel it. There was concern that the lawsuit issue would taint all discussions with legislators. But the Assembly eventually agreed to maintain the fly-in, and limit participation and discussion to only items that were approved during last fall’s community capital project process.
You can listen to last week’s interview with Gov. Sean Parnell here.