Workers sue city over cuts

Suit says charter was violated

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

The union representing city mental health workers facing termination filed suit against the city and the city manager this morning.

According to Juneau's charter, you can't establish, alter or abolish any municipal department without first passing an ordinance to do it. But that's just what City Manager Dave Palmer did when he decided to gut the Health and Social Services Department, get rid of the department personnel and move its clients to private agencies, said Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association business agent Greg O'Claray.

``Was somebody asleep at the manager's office?'' O'Claray asked.

On another count, the brief alleges that ``the decision to terminate or otherwise discontinue direct delivery of various services through the Health and Social Services Department, including services related to chemical dependency programs, mental health treatment and family and individual counseling was made in a closed meeting contrary to the Open Meetings Act, and other law governing the conduct of the public's governmental business.''

A decision to stop the city's involvement in mental health services was reached at a Juneau Assembly executive session earlier this year, O'Claray said. ``We call it the `secret Wednesday night massacre' and it clearly ran counter to the Open Meetings Act.''

City Manager Dave Palmer said he had not seen the brief. But advised of its contents, he said his office was ``proceeding with our meetings with MEBA for a smooth transition.

``Sounds to me like MEBA wants us to pass an ordinance,'' Palmer said, ``Heck, we pass ordinances every two weeks.''

The city manager said he thought there would be sufficient support on the assembly to pass the required ordinance.

The suit seeks an injunction requiring Palmer and city staff to halt the department changes in the absence of lawful enactment of such an ordinance.

The suit also asks for legal notice of any meeting contemplating an ordinance that would alter the Health and Social Services Department.

City Attorney John Corso said he could not comment on the suit because he had not had time to review it. Mayor Dennis Egan could not be reached for comment.

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