News from Patrick Flynn

Oh what a night (it will be)

Tuesday evening’s Assembly meeting is shaping up to be a barnburner.  Long, potentially contentious and chock full of intrigue.  Unless you choose to ignore local government or have been living in a cave you’re surely aware of at least some of the issues before us.  But, in the interest of disclosure, here are some highlights:

  • Labor contracts.  The administration brought four contracts to the Assembly for approval in December.  Two, for bargaining units (AMEA & IBEW) whose previous contracts had expired, were approved on December 2.  The remaining two, for the IAFF (firefighters) and APDEA (police), are more contentious despite their compliance with Assembly guidelines set in past years.  More on that later.
  • Updating Anchorage’s building codes.  The new code, which reflects changes made in the National Electrical Code, does not appear to be controversial. To double check I asked the Anchorage Home Builders Association to provide their comments, which they haven’t done yet, and Dan Coffey was going to ask the same of the Associated General Contractors.  The larger issue is whether those organizations will be comfortable with the new fee schedule.  They were part of an ad hoc committee that reviewed the changes, but that doesn’t mean they like them!
  • Acquisition of a new middle school site in West Anchorage.  This ordinance would authorize $6.25 million to purchase 25 acres in the WestPark subdivision (a former gravel pit) near Kincaid Park so the Anchorage School District can, eventually, erect a middle school at that location.  Given the growth in that part of town there is certainly a need, but there is concern that the site will require significant work to preserve groundwater resources.  Many neighbors apparently feel that responsibility rests with the subdivision developer, hence the concern.
  • Who will become acting mayor?  The city charter provides that the Assembly Chair, currently Matt Claman, becomes acting mayor in the event of a vacancy.  Ever since it became apparent that Mayor Begich would resign to assume a U.S. Senate seat in early January there’s been quiet, and not so quiet, rumblings about replacing Mr. Claman because he is considering a run for mayor in the upcoming April, 2009 election.  A proposed piece of legislation would make it easier to unseat Mr. Claman.  Irrespective of the personalities involved, I find all these machinations an unfortunate distraction when we should be focusing on bigger issues.

Given all this, along with several dozen other matters on our agenda, the Clerk has already tentatively scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, December 17, in case we don’t finish our work by the proscribed 11 pm deadline.  I’m betting we don’t.

The biggest issues, if you believe the media, are the two remaining labor contracts that are set to expire on June 30.  One of my “conservative” colleagues, who voted against the AMEA & IBEW contracts, told me he didn’t have a problem with the IAFF contract.  Still, I expect he’ll vote against it, as he and his colleagues seem intent to vote against most, if not all, fiscal issues in an effort to create a perceived political advantage for their preferred mayoral candidate.  That said, my prediction is that the firefighters’ contract will pass.  While opponents will voice concerns about its length, five years, my conversations with the IAFF president left me confident that we can renegotiate terms if Anchorage suffers a significant fiscal downturn.  Proponents will note the professionalism of the department, including the high survival rate of heart attack victims served by AFD emergency medical technicians.

Expect more fireworks over the APDEA contract.  One issue, MOA paying the salary of the APDEA president, appears to be off the table.  In a recent post I cited this fact as particularly problematic for me and subsequently explained my concerns further to the current APDEA president.  Since then APDEA sent a letter to MOA’s Employee Relations department voluntarily returning to a 50/50 sharing of the president’s salary (MOA pays half and APDEA pays half), which reflects the terms of the contract slated to expire in June.  That alone saves the city more than $250,000 over the life of the contract.  (If you like ironies consider that this letter is of the same ilk, a Memorandum of Agreement or Administrative Letter, that some of my colleagues consider illegal and expensive.)  The length of the APDEA contract, five years, will come up again.  Similar to the IAFF, APDEA has foregone scheduled raises during past economic crunches and, following the same conversation where I voiced my concerns about the president’s salary, I came away convinced we can work out similar arrangements in the future should they become necessary.

Another point of opposition to both contracts will be that they haven’t yet expired.  That’s correct, they both expire on June 30, 2009.  Here’s why I don’t consider that issue to preclude approval:

  • First, both contracts had wage re-openers that did not result in wage increases.  Instead, in each case the two sides could not agree on a wage increase and instead decided to renegotiate the entire contract.
  • Second, both contracts provide for 3% wage increases in 2009, which is well below the Anchorage CPI of 4.6%.
  • Finally, let’s assume municipal policy would preclude approval of contracts until they are either expired or nearly so.  In that case, these contracts would either be negotiated by the administration of an acting mayor or would await a new administration and be long expired prior to approval, likely with a retroactive clause.  I don’t consider either scenario to be an attractive one, particularly since the person slated to become acting mayor is considering running for that job.

Just so we’re clear, here’s where I’m leaning on the issues listed above:

  • Contracts – for.
  • Code update – for (though I’ll move to postpone if the industry raises significant concerns).
  • Middle school site acquisition – postpone (I want to learn more about the groundwater issue).
  • Deposing the chair – against.

Of course, it’s only Sunday and we’ll see how things go Tuesday!



This contribution was made on Sunday, 14. December 2008 at 10:05 and was published under the category Coming events. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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1 Comment

  1. I think it is possible that the fee increases were to keep the same level of service. Building department is fee based. If fees are not received…then their level of service decreases. Lay offs?

    Comment: Julie – 22. December 2008 @ 8:17 pm

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