After 90-minutes of often-rancorous debate Tuesday night (6-11-19) the Sitka Assembly voted to fire city administrator Keith Brady. Although it’s not the final step in the process, Brady says he likely won’t appeal the assembly’s decision.
A long and, at times, heated Sitka Assembly meeting on Tuesday ended with city administrator Keith Brady losing his job on a split vote of 4-3. When the motion to fire Brady came to the floor, he read a prepared statement.
“I understand that I’m politically appointed and that you have the prerogative to do what you have done with this resolution. I don’t plan on leaving Sitka. I love it here,” Brady said and paused for a moment. “Whatever the decision tonight, it has been my pleasure to serve the city and borough of Sitka and work with amazing staff within this great community.”
Assembly members attempted to fire Brady in April during his annual evaluation, but the motion failed 3-3. Instead, they gave Brady an unsatisfactory evaluation and agreed to revisit the matter in 90 days.
But on Tuesday night, less than 60 days had passed since that meeting, and the measure was before the assembly again, sponsored by assembly members Kevin Mosher, Aaron Bean, and Richard Wein. In a full room, over a dozen members of the public spoke in support of Brady, many saying they understood the assembly had the right to fire Brady at will, but they were frustrated by what some said was a lack of process and transparency.
Former assembly member and one-time mayoral candidate Ben Miyasato said the precedent the assembly was setting would make it hard to hire a replacement.
“Good luck to the people you’re trying to recruit. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Who would want to come here and be subject to what you folks are doing. It’s ridiculous. Straight out ridiculous.”
Others, like Greg Stevenson, felt the assembly should be more transparent about their reasons for firing the administrator.
“I want to hear right now the reasons you want to get rid of him. If you don’t speak up, shut up, is my opinion,” he said. “And I’m looking at the three that are sponsoring it.”
“We’re not allowed to speak right now,” Kevin Mosher responded.
“You will hear from me,” Mosher retorted, and after a brief exchange told Stevenson he did not appreciate his tone.
Only one person at the meeting spoke out in favor of firing Brady. Mary Ferguson, a detective with the Sitka Police Department is one of three current or former SPD employees involved in ongoing litigation with the city. Ferguson filed a sexual harassment suit against the city last fall, and has since been on administrative leave. She said she would not return to work as long as Brady remained administrator.
“What about the three of us that didn’t do anything wrong?” Ferguson asked. “Because somebody wasn’t held accountable. And Mr. Brady knew about it and didn’t do anything about it.”
When it came time for deliberation, assembly member Aaron Bean was ready to have the discussion behind closed doors. He made a motion to go into executive session. Some people in the audience yelled “no!” During public comment, several voiced opposition, and Mayor Gary Paxton said he wouldn’t support a move to go into executive session.
“The town needs to hear this,” Paxton said. “Tell me why. Tell me why you had this crazy out of the midnight deal- suspend him now when we had a whole process leading up to the middle of July.”
And so, the assembly members sponsoring the resolution began to give their reasons. Richard Wein said some Sitkans may think the decision was coming out of left field, but it wasn’t. He cited Brady’s lack of experience in city management when he began his job as Sitka’s city administrator. Wein said after two years, he felt that was still evident at the assembly table.
“This is not a training wheel city,” he said. “And to me, I have found time and time again, where things have been brought to the assembly table which have been half done.”
Wein mentioned several city projects that he felt had been poorly handled by Brady- from water delivery for NSRAA to the final phase of the Sitka Cross Trail. And he said another concern was how Brady addressed the ongoing turmoil at the Sitka Police Department.
Mosher also cited Brady’s experience and said he wanted an administrator he could trust.
“Because of his inexperience and inabilities to close on deals and also some mistakes he’s made has actually created more instability and chaos and scary things that are happening,” he said.
Mosher said he had an interim administrator in mind who might be interested in taking over while they looked for Brady’s permanent replacement, and Bean said the same. Neither named a specific person.
Mayor Paxton and assembly members Steven Eisenbeisz and Kevin Knox all voiced opposition. Eisenbeisz said by adopting the resolution assembly members were stating that they desire a change in legislative policy- he said that isn’t Brady’s job.
“We legislate. The administrator doesn’t legislate. I take exception to that line in there. If we want to pursue a change in legislative policy we pursue a change within ourselves,” he said.
Knox said he was concerned about the assembly’s ability to work together in the future. With three for and three against, assembly member Valorie Nelson held the swing vote, and she said at the beginning of the meeting that she was on the fence.
“I’ve agonized over it,” she said. “My guts have been wrenching and I was wishing that I had a bottle of red wine here to make things easier. I explained to the many people who called me and sent me emails that I’m probably fifty-fifty.”
Brady didn’t take all the criticism on the chin. He pushed back on his responsiveness to the assembly’s concerns over city staffing — especially department heads.
“There was one in my discussions with you individually that you wanted to see 3 of my department heads fired in 6 months. I don’t see what you see in my staff.”
Brady said. “If it comes down to it, I would rather have you fire me. Because I won’t fire them.”
Nelson took issue with Brady’s statement.
“The administrator works at the will of the assembly and if there are four assembly members that have voiced concerns about department heads or staff, then that makes the decision a little bit easier for me.”
“This body has not voted on asking the administrator to terminate anybody,” said assembly member Knox.
“Nor can we, and I don’t appreciate being attacked,” Nelson responded.
Brady then attempted to clarify his statement. “The charter says that the appointment or removal of department heads has to have the approval of the assembly. If you tell me one-by-one to get rid of a department head I’m not going to do it. If you tell me as a body to remove someone, I will. So I don’t believe I’m being insubordinate there,” Brady said. “Maybe if I didn’t see that that was necessary, I would quit before firing them.”
This exchange may have pushed Nelson off the fence. The vote in favor of the resolution to remove Brady was 4-3, with members Eisenbeisz, Knox and Paxton opposed.
Brady was suspended with pay, and fire chief Dave Miller will act as administrator in his immediate absence. The resolution is technically “preliminary” and Brady has the opportunity to appeal the decision and request a public hearing before the assembly passes a final resolution. Brady told KCAW he probably won’t take that step. He said he doesn’t want to spend any more of the public’s money. “You got the vibe in there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s worth having a public hearing.”
Editors Note: The City of Sitka provides complete minutes and audio for all Sitka Assembly meetings to the public. Click here to listen to the full audio from the 6/11/19 Sitka Assembly meeting.