Recently the Kodiak city manager, Mike Tvenge, fired his deputy, Matt Van Daele. Speculation now surrounding this dismissal strongly suggests that politics rather than performance led to this outcome. If so, corrective measures need to be undertaken.
According to KMXT public radio, likely the public will never be given sufficient information to make an independent determination as to whether this action was justified or was politically motivated. When questioned, the mayor, Ms. Branson, noted that appropriate protocols were followed in this action, which essentially stonewalls direct public inquiry… if the public so allows.
But when actions such as the city manager took in firing Mr. Van Daele are so egregious, it is the right, if not the civic duty, of Kodiak citizens to demand a further explanation from their government. After all, are we not a government “by the people”? Or is this just so much empty rhetoric?
Kodiak is a home rule city, where the six members of the city council hire a city manager to oversee daily operations of the city of Kodiak, whose duties include the hiring and firing of employees. And obviously details of personnel matters are not a part of the public purview nor should they be, as employees have a right to privacy. However, the city has no right to privacy beyond that required to protect that of the employee and to reasonably protect itself against possible future litigation. But in this case, it appears that the city manager took a questionable action which he now claims is unassailable for these reasons. Essentially the electorate is being told to step aside and our city officials will handle this. Which dictum I would argue is just so much “buncombe” [Disclosure: Not the descriptive word I initially wanted to use, but my wife made me change it.]
Ultimately, it is up to the elected members of the Kodiak City Council to assure the business of the city is both actually conducted and appears to be conducted in an above-board fashion. This is an essential function of their office and one which they are sworn to uphold. And the recent action by Mr. Tvenge clearly does not meet this standard and is suggestive of deliberate misuse of his office for personal reasons. Thus it is up to the elected members of the Kodiak City Council to meet in private (executive) session and determine whether the city manager, Mr. Tvenge, acted with clear justification in discharging Mr. Van Daele and to confirm the facts he presents. Then, if the council gives Mr. Tvenge a vote of “no confidence,” he should be allowed to resign without prejudice or offered the position of deputy city manager (at his present salary) and a new city manager hired in his stead. Conversely, if Mr. Tvenge presents a credible rationale for his action, then it should be allowed to stand and no further action is required.
But one way or the other, the city council owes the electorate a public statement that they have looked into this personnel action and endorse, or do not endorse, Mr. Tvenge’s decision. And one needs to keep in mind that Mr. Tvenge is accountable to the city council and, in turn, the city council is responsible to the electorate: At least that’s the way things are supposed to work.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.