Over the past term, two sides have clearly formed in Bethel City Council. And after several rounds of ethics complaints that council members have filed against each other, the division has grown. KYUK’s Greg Kim sat down with two of the most vocal council members to talk about a dispute that surfaced at the last meeting.
Last Tuesday, council members disagreed on whether the city should pay for a lighting project on Pinky’s Park Boardwalk. One member, Fritz Charles, was absent during much of that discussion. When he arrived, fellow council member Leif Albertson noticed something.
“When he came in, the chair of the meeting, Vice-Mayor Raymond "Thor" Williams, immediately started writing notes to him,” Albertson remembered.
Vice-Mayor Williams says that council members pass notes to each other all the time.
“It’s a non-issue,” Williams said. “I don’t see why it’s an issue.”
Albertson agrees. He texts other members too, but he said that this time it seemed different.
“After they were passing those notes back and forth, the first thing that Mr. Charles asked was basically the same line of questioning that our Vice-Mayor was asking,” Albertson said.
When it came time to vote, Charles sided with Williams. Albertson says that this is part of a broader trend.
“I can predict how these people are going to vote because of how this other person is gonna vote, like caucuses,” Albertson said. “And anyone who’s listening sees that 3-4 vote on a lot of things.”
Vice-Mayor Williams says that the factional voting goes both ways. He saw council member Mitchell Forbes side with Albertson against a project Williams described as a “no-brainer.”
“The voting on the issue of lighting on Pinky’s Park is another example of our fellow council members not wanting to reach across aisles and work for the betterment of our community,” Williams said.
Both sides gave reasons for their voting. Albertson said that if the city was going to pay for the lights, they should follow the normal budgeting process. Williams said that $156,000 just isn’t that much if it improves public safety. But both agreed that partisan voting affected decision-making.
How did factions, the majority and the minority, forces that govern state and federal politics, creep into city hall? Williams says that the media is partly to blame.
“Lots of times, council members speak to their constituents through the radio,” Williams said.
Williams says that broadcasting council meetings leads to members grandstanding, speaking to the choir.
“We don’t have people talking to each other, we have people talking through each other,” Williams said.
Both council members agree that the divide has hindered the council’s ability to work for the residents of Bethel, and they agree on one more point: the solution is coming up in October.
“If you don’t like what’s going on on council, your best opportunity to change that is to become a candidate,” Albertson said.
“Sign up. Put your money where your mouth is,” Williams said.
City Council Candidacy Packets are due today, August 20.