As recall effort gets underway, Unalaska’s mayor denies illegal dock negotiations

A group of Unalaskans is trying to recall Mayor Frank Kelty, center. To force a recall election, they must collect 168 signatures by Dec. 22. That number represents 25 percent of votes cast in the last regular mayoral election. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Unalaska’s mayor now is facing a recall effort following months of intense public criticism.

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Frank Kelty has denied allegations that he interfered with the former city manager or forced his resignation.

But the recall petition isn’t centered on recent clashes at City Hall.

Instead, it accuses the mayor of backroom dealings regarding the city dock.

The petition charges Kelty with one count of misconduct: “Attempting to sole-source land use agreements for the Unalaska Marine Center positions 5-7.”

In other words, the mayor is accused of giving one company an unfair first crack at a preferential use agreement, rather than letting the city open a public bidding process as required by municipal code.

“Totally false,” Kelty said. “Everyone knows that the city manager handles negotiations on things like that.”

Recently, however, the trajectory of those negotiations has been unclear.

Since the city reopened a longstanding debate on priority dock usage, the city manager has resigned and half the City Council has been voted out of office.

The council also has revoked its own directive authorizing negotiations, after receiving legal advice from the city attorney, and the matter has not gone out to bid.

Kelty has been a vocal supporter of renewing Matson’s lapsed contract, and he admits to meeting with the private shipping company. But he said those meetings are part of an ongoing working relationship, not evidence of an illegal deal.

“Naturally, I would take a meeting with Matson, who is a major revenue producer for the city and provides jobs. (I) talk to them and hear their concerns,” Kelty said. “But I’ve been in no meetings when there were negotiations going on.”

KUCB has filed a public records request for the mayor’s emails regarding dock agreements. But Kelty said the recall effort is really about something else.

“I think it’s carryover from the Martinson issue,” Kelty said.

Dave Martinson resigned as city manager in September, citing long-term tension with the council and mayor.

The Unalaskans leading the recall push acknowledge that is a factor.

“The public, in my opinion, has lost faith in the mayor in general,” Ryan Burke, the petition’s primary contact, said. “All of this stemming, obviously, from the departure of Dave Martinson. His relationship with the mayor crumbled his wanting to stay here.”

Burke said he and nine co-sponsors are now circulating petitions around the island. They have until Dec. 22 to gather 168 signatures.

“We’re getting there,” Burke said. “We’re all collecting these signatures to hopefully bring this to a vote very soon.”

If they succeed, City Clerk Marjie Veeder will schedule a recall election no later than 75 days after signatures are verified. She said voters would be able to recall the mayor with a simple majority.

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Laura Kraegel covers Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands for KUCB . Originally from Chicago, she first came to Alaska to work at KNOM, reporting on Nome and the Bering Strait Region. ( / 907.581.6700)

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