Story last updated at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, August 31, 2002

City council examines lease policy
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Half a year after the city's lease policy caused a ruckus with business owners on the city lots of the Homer Spit, the city council began its rewrite of the policy Monday.

City Manager Ron Drathman presented the council with a Lease Policy Manual update, but several had questions and concerns regarding the update.

The council asked Drathman to review and rewrite the lease policy in March after the old version proved ineffective in diffusing a dispute over three properties on the Homer Spit leased by Marty McGee. Among the tenants in McGee's buildings were The Auction Block, Southcentral Radar and Desperate Marine. Problems arose when McGee was denied a continuation of his 20-year-lease extension, which was contingent on a plan for improvements to the property.

Drathman presented the council with the policy update at the Monday council work session, but several questions were raised regarding wording that put more of the lease negotiation responsibility on the shoulders of the city manager. Other wording stating that "politics should be removed from the leasing process as much as possible" drew the ire of Councilman Rick Ladd.

"I think this is somewhat accusatory of the city council of politics," Ladd said.

Drathman responded that the purpose of rewriting the lease policy was to remove politics or the perception of politics from the policy.

"It's factually accurate," he said. "You're telling the public this is not political."

Ladd contended that the statement might insinuate that all discussions with constituents constitute politics.

"I come to this table without politics," Ladd said. "I do not want to put a wall up between" constituents.

For Councilman John Fenske, however, it was the apparent distancing of the council from the lease negotiation process that caused concern.

"I understand having an individual responsible for negotiating leases," Fenske said, but added that he wanted to know what happens if a city manager comes along who does not negotiate leases well or fairly.

Drathman's response was simple: you fire them. In addition, he said, all leases ultimately come before the city council for final approval, so the public will still have an opportunity to make their opinions heard.

"Everybody's still free to talk to the council, but someone's got to be able to move this process along," he said.

Ultimately, Drathman appeared frustrated by the council's questions, saying endless discussions wind up delaying the process of completing a document.

After extensive discussion, Drathman said he had a feel for the changes the council would like made to the policy, and planned to bring back a revised version.

In other news, the council introduced an ordinance recommending $20,000 from the general fund be appropriated for the paving of the skateboard park in front of the Homer Boys and Girls Club on the Sterling Highway.

The Homer Skateboarding Association was recently awarded several grants toward the project, including a $10,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation and an $8,000 pledge by Rotary International. Most recently, the association received a $19,000 outright grant and a $6,000 challenge grant from the Rasmuson Foundation.

The council will hear public testimony and vote on the skateboard park ordinance at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The council passed two ordinances pertaining to the Homer Volunteer Fire Department. One appropriated a $150,000 state grant for approximately 40 new fire packs. Another ordinance provided a partial exemption from municipal property taxes on residential property owned by volunteers with the department. The ordinance gives volunteers a $50 tax break on every $100,000 assessed value of property.

The council passed an ordinance accepting a $101,597 state capital project matching grant for the proposed Homer library, and appropriated a city match of $31,508. The council passed a resolution authorizing a $1,627,728 agreement with the state Department of Transportation for the relocation, replacement and/or installation of certain utilities along the side of East End Road during the road's reconstruction.

Drathman told the council it was money well spent, as the expenditure ensured an optimum position so the city utilities would not run under the road. As a result, future expansions and connections to the utilities would cost the city less, he said.

During the next council meeting on Sept. 9, the council will discuss the upcoming Capital Improvement Projects in a meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. in addition to the regular Committee of the Whole meeting.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer