As Mayor Talks Amendments, Assemblyman Calls Out 'Deceptive' Practices
Sullivan unveils amendments to AO-37; Assemblyman Traini lambastes mayor’s contract with outside attorney
ANCHORAGE - Mayor Dan Sullivan and municipal attorneys gathered with union leaders Thursday afternoon to discuss an amended version of AO-37, the controversial ordinance that could significantly rewrite the city’s labor practices. The meeting came in the wake of allegations by Assemblyman Dick Traini that the mayor’s outside contract to write the ordinance has been “deceptive.”
In Thursday’s meeting, they unions were handed a revised version of the ordinance, as well as a brief note highlighting the changes. And while the mayor's office was hoping the revisions would clarify things, the meeting only seemed to muddy the waters.
Derek Hsieh with the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association said people are more confused now than they were before. When union members posed questions to the city attorneys, many times, even they didn't have answers. The attorneys promised to get back to them with answers at a later time.
But some elements in the amended proposal were fairly clear.
“Our standardization of benefits does not include pension plans, so it clarifies that,” Mayor Sullivan said moments before Thursday’s meeting. “There's some clarification of what managed competition means, and how the policy will be implemented.”
The question of “managed competition”—essentially a way to open up city services to bids by private contractors—is one that labor leaders said has been a major concern with the ordinance. Initially only firefighters and police officers were exempt for the planned private contracting, but now the amended ordinance also excludes Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and other 911 dispatchers.
“That's another key amendment, we just spell it out more clearly, EMS, dispatch, and fire prevention services are not included in any managed competition possibilities,” Sullivan said.
The unions have also asked for clearer definitions for terms like “labor costs” and “benefits,” and Hsieh said the unions are still unclear as to how the ordinance would impact the way seniority is determined.
But before Thursday afternoon’s meeting, new information came to light at Wednesday night’s public comment session with the Anchorage Assembly. Assemblyman Dick Traini highlighted a procurement report from August 2012 that identified a $29,500 fee paid to Thomas P. Owens Jr., a private attorney based in Anchorage. (You can see Owen’s personal website here.)
Traini said he started looking into the issue when the mayor’s ordinance was first made public. “I find in August they outsourced the writing of this to another attorney, a sole source contract, for $30,000,” he said in an interview Thursday. “So they only had to notify us after they had done it. They didn't have to get our permission.”
The report cited Owens’s “limited consulting services regarding potential code revisions” and emphasized his “historical and legal background.” The report did not mention what code in particular Owens was paid to revise.
Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler confirmed Thursday that Owens did in fact help craft AO-37, but Wheeler said that what specifically Owens worked on is protected by legal privileges. Wheeler said the municipality often brings in outside expertise.
Traini said the assembly was never told about the mayor’s intent with the work done through contract with Owens.
“I don't think you do this, I think you and the legal department have to be upfront on where the money's being spent,” Traini said. “So my question… with revisions [is], who's revised it? And can I track down through the rabbit hole [who that] actually is?”
By contracting with Owens for under $30,000, Traini said the mayor obviated the assembly’s approval of the expenditure. He said this kind of thing doesn’t happen often. “When you're playing games, it happens,” he said. “I'm sorry, but I'm very suspicious when something comes in that's just under the threshold.”
Just before last night's meeting came to a close, Assembly Chair Ernie Hall said there would be one more night for public comment on the mayor's ordinance, now scheduled for Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m. in assembly chambers.
The meeting will be the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on the now amended—but still controversial—AO-37.