KODIAK — A Kodiak Island Borough assemblywoman’s contracts to do work for the borough have ignited a debate about what should be allowed in the borough’s conflict-of-interest law.
Assemblyman Tuck Bonney said he was surprised to learn that Assemblywoman Chris Lynch and her company, Kodiak Construction Services, has been providing consulting services on borough construction projects such as landfill expansion and a new long-term care facility.
“I thought an assembly member couldn’t work for the borough, but I was wrong,” Bonney said at a work session last week. “The transparency worried me. When I started asking questions, I found an attorney’s opinion was done without our knowledge and I want to know why it wasn’t shown to us. It doesn’t make sense that we don’t see that when it affects us.”
The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports that contracts of more than $25,000 must be approved by the assembly. Lynch’s contracts were split into amounts less than $25,000 — 11 purchase orders totaling $38,625 with $9,490 paid out so far.
Lynch and borough attorney Cheryl Brooking say the contracts are legal. Brooking in June provided a written legal opinion. The confidential opinion was provided to other assembly members before the work session.
Borough ordinance allows assembly members to be employed with contract work only.
Bonney said the ordinance should be re-examined and the $25,000 threshold lowered.
“This is about the ordinance, the gaping hole in the ordinance that this didn’t have to go to bid,” Bonney said. “The ordinance needs to be changed so this can never happen again. I think we need to look at the $25,000 limit and drop it to $10,000 so at least we know what is going on.”
Lynch took on the work so the borough would not fall behind while seeking a project manager, she said.
“I was approached by the borough manager in May,” Lynch said. “At the time, I said, ‘I can do the project so we don’t get behind.’”
Borough manager Rick Gifford resigned in mid-June. He approved a $130 per hour contract with Lynch’s company June 1.
Lynch recused herself at assembly meetings when there was a conflict, she said.
“It was vetted through the attorney,” Lynch said. “We were following the code. I’ve never considered anything we’ve done to be hiding something.”
Assemblywoman Louise Stutes said the contracts should have been reviewed. Her first thought, she said, was that they were designed to avoid review.
“This is all one contract,” she said. “All the purchasing orders fall under one contract. I am horrified at the lack of transparency and how it transpired.”
Assembly members Carol Austerman and Dave Kaplan disagreed. If the code is changed, Austerman said, people may be discouraged from assembly service.
“The majority of us typically elected into positions are business owners,” Austerman said. “If we’re going to move to change ordinances so assembly members’ businesses can no longer do business for the borough, I feel we’ll be limited to the people who are going to be able to run.”