The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly ended 2017 with a contentious regular meeting. Members of the diet questioned if Assemblyman Matthew Van Daele had a conflict of interest since he’s the city of Kodiak’s deputy city manager.
That meeting ended with Van Daele’s appointment to the Borough’s Lands Committee being blocked, and all other assembly committee appointments postponed.
The Assembly began the new year by hearing public input concerning how assembly members dealt with the situation and the borough’s conflict of interest policy.
Larry Van Daele was the first person to give public comment to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly at its regular meeting Thursday night. He’s the father of Assemblyman Matthew Van Daele. He stated clearly that he’s concerned by the assembly’s recent behavior.
“If your last meeting is the harbinger for the future I fear that this assembly will be paralyzed into in action as you revisit items and argue about who’s too conflicted to participate in the votes.”
During the assembly’s final meeting last year, members spent a lot of time discussing whether Assemblyman Van Daele has a conflict of interest since he works for the city. Earlier in that meeting, the assembly released a legal opinion from the borough attorney on the subject.
It stated the question of whether Van Daele has a conflict of interest will have to be assessed on a case by case basis. The opinion didn’t seem to clarify the situation for the assembly. Instead, members continued to ask if Van Daele could serve both the city and the borough fairly.
Former Assemblymember Sue Jeffery, at last night’s meeting, told the assembly it didn’t handle the situation appropriately.
“I have never witnessed or heard about the kind of just blatant disrespect for public officials that occurred recently.”
The assembly had previously voted 4 – 2 to fail the appointment of Van Daele to the Borough Lands Committee due to a perceived conflict of interest. This action blocked all of the assembly appointments to the lands committee, which meant Assemblywoman Julie Kavanaugh wasn’t allowed to join the committee as a formality. It also ended up postponing all of the annual appointments of assembly members to borough committees.
Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer has the responsibility to assign assembly members to the committees. Since the assembly voted to fail his appointment of Van Daele, he says he’s spent hours reshuffling the assignments. Rohrer told the assembly, on Thursday, no matter what he does, he can’t come up with a new list that’s fair.
“I even literally cutting out everybody’s name twice and drawing it out and assigning you that way. That wasn’t very pretty.”
Rohrer asked the assembly if it’d reconsider approving his original appointments including Van Daele to the lands committee — which assembly members approved.
They voted 5 to 2 in favor of appointing Van Daele and Kavanaugh to the lands committee. Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner and Assemblyman Dennis Symmons voted against. The assembly then unanimously voted to approve the rest of the mayor’s appointments.
The most surprising person to vote in favor of putting Van Daele on the lands committee may have been Assemblyman Kyle Crow. He’d originally led the charge to block Van Daele, but he said opposing the appointment now didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
“I am willing to accept that might not be the best thing to do at this point without having addition guidance by an attorney. I still think there are plenty of opportunities for difficulties.”
Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner said she voted against Van Daele’s appointment because her questions about his potential conflict of interest weren’t answered.
She thinks the borough’s definition of conflict of interest needs to be clarified for the good of the assembly and the public.
“There were comments tonight that the code is clear. Well, I’ll tell you the code is not clear because two different people can read it and one can read it to mean that there’s absolutely no conflict and somebody else can read it to mean there is absolutely a conflict.”
Borough code defines a conflict of interest as being a substantial direct or indirect financial interest in a topic or decision.
Skinner says she wants a better system to determine if an assembly member has a conflict of interest. One that doesn’t make things personal. Both assembly and community members agreed that there needs to be a better way to deal with these kinds of situations.