The City of Sitka is in a legal battle with former mayor Marko Dapcevich, who filed a complaint over how the city awarded a contract to Turnagain Marine Construction Corporation. The Assembly is seeking outside legal counsel for the case. (GPIP Image)

Assembly to interview Miller, Meyer, and Schmitt for city’s top job

Sitka is in the throes of hiring for a new city administrator. City hall advertised the position with a starting salary of $130,000, which is negotiable depending on experience.

After winnowing the list from 50 to five, the Assembly interviewed three candidates. Utility Director Bryan Bertacchi withdrew his application. Now, two remain — Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller and Homer Public Works Director Carey Meyer — and the Assembly has offered final interviews to the two men. They also granted a first-round interview for Sheldon Schmitt, Sitka’s former police chief, who submitted an application last week.

The final hire will be decided by a four-person vote. Should no one appeal to the majority of Assembly members, they plan to hire a recruiter. Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz liked that plan. “I think that’s the perfect compromise right there. I think if we interview these three [candidates] and the majority can’t make a decision upon those three, that we go to a recruiting firm at that point,” he said.

The price tag for a firm is $30,000, but it would broaden the search throughout the Pacific Northwest. Mark Gorman’s last day is June 15th.

Code tightened to fine people for bear attractants

In 2012, the Assembly imposed a $100 fine on smelly trash, in an attempt to reduce bear activity in town. Sitka General Code lacks detail, though, on how that fine should be legally enforced. Andrew Thoms, who served on a bear task force in 2012, wants to give the policy more teeth. “This is a last ditch tool for the police department and for the 1 or 2% of people that aren’t taking care of their garbage and calling bears into the neighborhood,” he said.

The Assembly approved the tougher language, on first reading. The ordinance (Ord 2017-10) also lowers the penalty for a first time offender to $50. For a second offense, it’s $100 and for a third offense, $200. Beyond that, the offender must appear in court.

Assembly dedicates dollars for tourist buses, museum completion

As temperatures warm, the city is preparing to receive approximately 160,000 cruise ship passengers this summer. That’s double the amount in 2012, when the Old Sitka Dock opened to accommodate bigger ships. In response, the dock’s parent company – Halibut Point Marine Services – wants more money for buses. The Assembly awarded a $150,000 contract to HPMS to expand transit service between the Old Sitka Dock and Harrigan Centennial Hall Parking lot. They also demonstrated interest in a free hop-on-hop-off shuttle service, that would be operated by HPMS. See their proposal here: Proposal from Halibut Point Marine Services.

The Assembly appropriated $50,000 of Commercial Passenger Excise Tax funds for the completion of the Sitka History Museum’s interior. This caught the attention of Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz, who questioned the legality of using cruise ship head tax if the museum charges an entrance fee. City administration said they would research that. The motion passed, under the condition that no legal discrepancy is discovered.

City to seek outside legal counsel for dock lawsuit, withholds private e-mails

And in the last hour, the Assembly went behind closed doors to discuss a lawsuit. Former Sitka Mayor Marko Dapcevich has accused the city of illegally awarding a contract for the construction of a multi-purpose dock at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

On December 19, 2016 Dapcevich filed a public records request for correspondence between the Assembly and municipal officials concerning the dock. That was denied during a hearing on March 14th, on the grounds the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege. On April 30th, Dapcevich filed a public interest lawsuit citing the City and Borough of Sitka and Municipal Administrator Mark Gorman.

Before heading into executive session, Assembly members questioned Aaron Bean, who previously handed over his communications with City Attorney Brian Hanson to Dapcevich and recused himself from a legal briefing by waiving his attorney-client privilege as an individual. Now that the city is facing a lawsuit, City Attorney Brian Hanson said that confidentiality was paramount. “We’ve been sued now. All communications with me will be considered confidential, privileged communications.”

Moving forward, the Assembly wanted assurance that Bean would fully represent the interests of the city in the upcoming lawsuit. Mayor Matthew Hunter asked Bean, “Will you tell Mr. Dapcevich and his attorney what we talk about in executive session?” Bean responded, “No, that’s not my intention right now.” He added that if personally summoned to court, he would fully disclose all information about the dock procurement to a judge. 

Bean was admitted to the executive session, after a motion to recuse him failed 0-6. Upon return, they took no action on delivering the communications requested by Mr. Dapcevich. They also moved to hire outside legal counsel for the lawsuit.