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City Council split on measure to amend rules for city employment

Mark Springer has been in Bethel for about 20 years, and in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for about 40 years in total.
Olivia Ebertz
Mark Springer has been in Bethel for about 20 years, and in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for about 40 years in total.

During Bethel’s City Council meeting on April 11, council member Mark Springer recused himself during one of the agenda items up for introduction.

“Yeah I'd like to declare a conflict of interest regarding this ordinance if it was to pass it might provide me with an opportunity to apply for employment with the city,” he said to Mayor Rose Henderson.

The ordinance in question was a proposed amendment to Bethel’s city code – one that would let the city hire former city council members. Right now, the city can’t do that within a year of the council member leaving office.

Recently, City Manager Pete Williams announced his retirement. And, Springer is interested in replacing him.

Springer, who used to be the Mayor, said he has applied for the city manager position in the past. Although he was unsuccessful in getting hired, he is aware of how long it will take to recruit and employ a city manager.

“I thought maybe that I could, you know, help out the city, by applying to be the city manager, he said. “The rub is that the current city ordinance says that a council member may not apply for a position with the city until one year after they have left office.”

Springer expressed his opinion and interest in the position to Henderson, as well as the city clerk, knowing that there might have to be some sort of action to allow him – or anybody else who falls under that year-long time limit to be able to apply for the job.

The ordinance was up for introduction and not up for passage - meaning council members needed to agree to consider it. But ultimately three voted against it and it didn’t move forward.

Council member Patrick Snow voted no. He said he likes the one-year gap between city council service and city employment.

“I like that buffer period. I like that opportunity for other folks to apply for it,” he said. “Like moving from what they're again moving from one position of authority to another swiftly… it makes me feel a bit uneasy.”

Council member Beth Hessler also likes the one year waiting period. And Vice Mayor Henry Batchelor said he does not like the optics of council members moving on too quickly to other city positions.

“There’s a chance then I don't say anybody in particular anybody now but there is a chance of either the appearance or the actual fact that somebody's sitting here in council using their council seat in their council in the authority of the seat to influence a city manager or the manager of another department they're going into and that's the only concern I would have with this,” he said.

Springer was not in the audience during the discussion but was within earshot in the hallway. He says he was bewildered by some of the comments.

“Frankly, I was really, I was really surprised…And so I've that's what that's what really, you know, bothers me the most, you know, Oh, having terms like, you know, Bethel good old boys club coming up, and, you know, references to the power of the city manager and the dynamics of the upcoming election,” he said.“You know, I didn't understand much of that.”

Springer said his biggest concern is what happens when the City Manager is open at the end of June.

“The city is going to be kind of adrift here in a couple of months if the council's not very diligent and careful in how they proceed.”

The City Council did not take actions for a contingency plan.

Francisco Martínezcuello is the KYUK News Reporting Fellow and a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.