KODIAK — At the regular meeting of the Kodiak City Council Thursday Daniel Mckenna-Foster used his final council-member comment period as an opportunity to criticize the conduct of the council and the management of the City of Kodiak.
Mckenna-Foster, whose term expired on Thursday, was appointed to the city council in May, following Gabe Saravia stepping down.
“One thing that’s really concerned me about being up here is there never seems to be a lot of real, authentic discussion, a lot of real challenging ideas and thinking through problems — and actually identifying problems. It just seems nobody is interested in challenging the status quo,” Mckenna-Foster said.
In an interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror after he was sworn in on May 10, Mckenna-Foster said he wanted to become involved in city governance due to “frustrations” with decisions that the council and city were making.
“I think Kodiak has immense potential,” he said at the time, “but I think, in a lot of ways, it’s limited by maybe old-fashioned thinking, or lack of exposure to new thinking or new ideas.”
He said he wanted to focus on making city-related information more accessible, as well as working on economic development in the downtown area and projects on Near Island.
During his six months as a city council member, Mckenna-Foster has regularly proved himself a dissenting voice, often voting against ordinances that the rest of the council members voted to pass. For example, at a June 14 meeting, during which the city passed an ordinance establishing marijuana regulations, Mckenna-Foster was the only council member to vote in opposition.
He argued that the ban on edible marijuana products along with other elements of the ordinance would likely discourage the establishment of marijuana retail businesses, which he said would bring in additional tax revenue for the city. He noted that cannabis is already bought and sold in Kodiak; it’s simply not regulated.
During his final comments as a city council member, Mckenna-Foster once again brought up the issue of transparency. In trying to get information from the city, he said he’s “run into obstacles every step of the way.”
Mckenna-Foster said one of the first things he did was request to see a copy of City Manager Mike Tvenge’s professional qualifications. He pointed out that Kodiak city code states that these materials are “open to public inspection.”
“Every citizen is entitled to that. No one would tell me anything. Everyone was challenging what I was trying to do, asking what my agenda was. I was eventually provided with a cover letter, no resume, no CV, nothing,” Mckenna-Foster said Thursday. “In fact, I think at one point somebody told me if I wanted more information, I could put in a public records request. So, imagine that: if it’s hard for me to get information, it’s hard for citizens to get information, too.”
Documents obtained by the Kodiak Daily Mirror show a near-month long email exchange in May, during which Mckenna-Foster repeatedly attempted to access information about the city manager’s credentials.
City Mayor Pat Branson told KDM that she did not recall the exchange. Tvenge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mckenna-Foster also criticized the rules governing city council meetings — specifically a rule that states council members can only speak twice on each agenda item.
“That doesn’t seem to be encouraging discussion,” he said. “Regular meetings are broadcast on the radio, they’re available to everyone. I feel that this is the most accessible public forum and this is where we should do most of our discussion … everyone can participate, even the ones who are far away and have to listen on the radio. Why would we want to limit public discourse?”
In response, Branson said that the council observes Robert’s Rules of Order and the kind of discussion that Mckenna-Foster wanted to see takes place at city council work sessions.
“He’s looking for a town meeting on the dais. That’s not what we do. Maybe where he comes from that might be happening,” said Branson. “I’ve experienced that … but that’s not the form of government we have here. We don’t have town meetings on the dias. We have work sessions where people can make comments.”
Branson added that she’s “never heard a complaint from any constituent that this is a problem.”
Mckenna-Foster also took issue with city management, saying that he didn’t see much “proactive thinking.” He voiced concern over what he saw as a lack of urgency about Kodiak’s economy and questioned whether decisions are being made with the future in mind.
“Watching the city administration solve problems — somebody described it better than me — it’s like watching someone play whack-a-mole,” he said. “I agree with that. It’s entirely reactive and that’s not what we need.”
Specifically, he called out the city for paying consultants over prolonged periods of time without any written contract.
“The city paid an economic development consultant, who doesn’t even have a website, almost $20,000 with no contract over several months. They weren’t even locally based, so we just sent all that money off,” he said. “They didn’t produce a single deliverable. We didn’t even get a memo that said, ‘Here’s what we did.’”
In riposte, Pat Branson defended the decision. Although she said she did not have the materials in front of her, Branson insisted that the economic development consultant did provide deliverables.
Branson said that some of Mckenna-Fosters comments “may not be factual” and added that there are “better ways” to bring up these complaints at the dais.
“There are ways to bring this up in a discussion and that’s how you get things done,” she said. “This is what I believe the process is for making better government: You get the facts; you take it in tho the manager and the clerk; you bring it up to other council members as a discussion.”
“My door is always open,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if you work for the city council or an agency or are a resident.”
Other council members also came to the city and council’s defense at the meeting. Council Member John Whiddon said that it was a case of perspective and said that the former council member may have a case of confirmation-bias. He added that the city boasts plenty of accomplishments over the past few years.
“As far as some of your comments go, I haven’t experienced some of the same things that you have,” he said. “I’ve simply found that there’s ways to work with people and ways not to work with people.”
Council Member Laura Arboleda, thanked Mckenna-Foster for his time serving on the council, saying, “It’s always refreshing to hear a different perspective … it enriches you in some way.”
She went on to add that anyone doubting the city’s receptiveness to input should attend one of the council work sessions, which take place on a fortnightly basis.
“Don’t be afraid to come to the meetings,” she said. “Nothing feels better than sitting there and knowing that you’re educating yourself about what’s going on in your community.”
Branson, too, thanked Mckenna-Foster at the meeting for the time he dedicated to the council.
“I’ve agreed with some of his ideas and I think some of the council has,” Branson said Tuesday. “And, I did thank him for his service, as every council member did, because he did step up to the plate.”
Mckenna-Foster ended his time on the council by addressing staff of the staff of the City of Kodiak. He later clarified the statement, saying that he believes they should unionize.
“My final comment: employees of the city, good luck. I doubt the city administration is going to look out for your best interest. I think workers have a stronger voice when they speak together in solidarity,” he said. “Everyone else: good luck and shop local.”