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Council to consider changing the rules for city employment

Bethel City Hall
Olivia Ebertz

Filling and retaining positions in rural communities in Alaska is a constant challenge, and it’s one that the Bethel City Council is hoping to address soon.

In April, council members voted down a proposal that would waive requirements that former council members wait one year before seeking employment with the city.

So, Bethel Mayor Rose Henderson, who introduced that measure – tweaked it and introduced it again.

“I had community members call me, stop me in the store, explain to me how upset they were that the council wouldn't even allow the community to speak on this issue,” she said.

During last month’s meeting, council member Mark Springer recused himself during discussion of the plan, because he’s interested in applying for the city manager position. Current city manager Pete Williams will be retiring in June.

“This isn't an ordinance to get Mark Springer in the city manager position. It is because it [has] happened in the past. And we have several positions within the city that have not been able to be filled yet,” Henderson said. “Because nobody in Bethel is applying for it. And so we've had to contract companies out of Anchorage to come out and do these jobs.”

The mayor said the amendment waiving the one-year waiting period could ultimately save the city money, including the cost of moving new employees from outside. She also said a key motivation is the need to hire people who understand the challenges that come with living in Bethel.

“It saddens me when we do end up hiring somebody from out of state, and then they come and something happens, or you know, the price of groceries is just too high for them to even fathom. And they leave,” Henderson said. “And then we're right back where we started from going through the whole hiring process again, you know, recruiting applicants.”

Vice-mayor and council member Henry Batchelor opposes the measure.

“I don't think it's as desperate as certain people are making it out to be. I don't think it's valid, saying that we have nobody outside of Bethel that can run Bethel,” he said.

“It's not an easy position to fill. We want to fill it with the right person. But I don't think that's a reason to change this ordinance myself.”

Batchelor said that the proposal “feels like nepotism.” He also believes that it would contradict Alaska law.

“I don't see why we would change it from what the state is, the state says a year. Why would we change that?” Batchelor said.

“So even if we change this ordinance, they would have to have a unanimous vote from the council to be put into the job.”

The Council will consider public comments on the proposal in their May 23 meeting.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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