Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman (center) speaks while Aaron Rhoades (right) looks on during an assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman (center) speaks while Aaron Rhoades (right) looks on during an assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly opposes making mayor’s assistant full time

The borough was looking to bring on the mayor’s former chief of staff for the special assistant role

Assembly members Tuesday voted down legislation that would have made the borough mayor’s special assistant a full-time, rather than part-time, position. The mayor’s current chief of staff said Tuesday that the borough is looking to bring on the mayor’s former chief of staff for the special assistant role.

There were two special assistants to the mayor in fiscal year 2017 but that was reduced to one assistant in fiscal year 2018, according to the resolution. The remaining position was cut in fiscal year 2019 to a half-time assistant and chief of emergency services position and then to a quarter-time position in fiscal year 2021.

In proposing the new assistant to the mayor position, the legislation cites a need for “additional resources” to serve as a liaison to borough boards and commissions, capital projects and to collaborate with cities and city councils on issues. No additional money would have been needed in the current fiscal year, the legislation says.

A job description attached to the legislation said the special assistant’s duties would include being responsible for the development and implementation of projects as assigned by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and Chief of Staff Aaron Rhoades.

Rhoades said during Tuesday’s meeting that the borough is looking to bring on James Baisden as the special assistant. Baisden, who currently serves on the Kenai City Council, served as Pierce’s chief of staff for three years before announcing that he would be stepping down to retire last spring.

“I think James Baisden brings some good things,” Rhoades said. “He’s a plug-and-play individual and I think he could probably help us out on some things that I could use help on.”

Assembly member Tyson Cox said he would vote in opposition because the resolution was introduced so close to the borough’s annual budget cycle.

Assembly member Lane Chesley, who also voted in opposition, said Rhoades is like “the Dutch boy with (his) finger in the dike” whenever there’s a crisis, which affects his ability to do his own work as the mayor’s chief of staff.

“What I think we need to be looking for, is looking to talk to a temp agency about trying to find a contract HR director to come in as an interim to help take some of those loads off you.”

Assembly member Brent Hibbert countered that assembly members aren’t always able to see how much work gets done and that if Rhoades says he needs help he probably does.

“We’re here twice a month and we don’t see everything that’s going on,” Hibbert said. “Aaron has always been truthful with me and if he’s saying that they need help and to take some of the load off of everyone, I’m gonna go with his (position).”

The assembly voted 5-3 in opposition to the move, with assembly members Hibbert, Brent Johnson and Richard Derkevorkian voting in favor. Derkevorkian also asked that the issue be reconsidered at the assembly’s next meeting on May 3.

The assembly’s full meeting can be viewed on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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