Simmering tensions exploded at Wednesday's meeting of the Unalaska City Council. The special session ended with multiple calls for the mayor to resign, while the city manager announced he’s ready to leave a job that’s taken “years off [his] life.”
At City Hall, it’s standing room only as City Manager Dave Martinson makes his first appearance since the council started reviewing his contract behind closed doors three weeks ago.
He says he wants to make one thing very clear: “I have never offered or asked to resign — or have my contract terminated.”
Martinson says he started having a difficult relationship with the council and Mayor Frank Kelty about 10 months ago, after the municipal election. He says the resentment came to a head recently over a personnel matter, in which he took no action against an employee whom he says violated no city policy.
“They mayor informed me that the council would not be happy with my decision," says Martinson. "I explained that personnel decisions were outside the roles of the council and mayor — and that if they did not like my decision, then their issue was with my leadership and management of the city.”
That discussion between the manager and mayor happened on Aug. 9, according to both parties. The sticking point is how the conversation ended.
Here's Martinson’s perspective: “I suggested to the mayor that they should determine whether they wanted me to continue as the city manager. I then told the mayor that if he and the council chose to terminate me, it would be without cause.”
But according to the mayor, Martinson offered to resign after acknowledging that their relationship wasn’t working. The manager did not submit a letter of resignation, but Kelty says Martinson emailed him the same day about the severance package outlined in the manager's contract.
“I took what I believed was his [resignation] request back to the council," says Kelty. "That’s why we had the first special meeting on Aug. 11.”
At that time, Kelty started negotiating with Martinson via email about his severance, despite the murkiness surrounding who initiated the resignation.
Martinson’s contract says he’s due about $40,000 if he’s terminated without cause. If he quits, he doesn’t get any severance pay or reimbursement for moving expenses.
The issue was not resolved at the meeting, where Martinson received overwhelming public support and a standing ovation. But the council did authorize Kelty to offer a compromise package to Martinson, who stands to receive about $30,000 in severance and moving expenses, in addition to two weeks of free rent at his current city housing.
Kelty told KUCB he hasn’t decided if he’ll present the deal to Martinson. He wants to think about it first. But the city manager says he’ll be ready to sign it, should it come across his desk.
“I’ve lost years off my life," says Martinson. "I can’t do it anymore. I'm worn out.”
Despite weeks of back and forth over the potential resignation, city councilors say they were surprised to hear Martinson didn’t want to leave his job in the first place. The manager was off-island for a family funeral during most of their executive sessions on the issue, so councilors say they took the mayor’s word that he had offered to resign.
During public comments, Unalaskans hurled criticism at the councilors for failing to confirm, including city council candidate Dennis Robinson.
“I think the council’s been hoodwinked by the mayor," says Robinson. "The wool has been pulled over their eyes. They listened without question.”
The public also pressed the mayor and council on the personnel decision that escalated tensions, according to the manager. After declining to comment for weeks, they acknowledged they had approached Martinson about an online survey created by Deputy Police Chief Jennifer Shockley.
The survey posed questions about the performance of the mayor and council, but Kelty says they never asked the manager to discipline Shockley.
“We made comments on our concerns about why the number two person at the Department of Public Safety was sending out stuff about grading your council members," he says. "There’s a little bit of a grey area there.”
Kelty says there’s an ongoing investigation regarding the survey — and whether Shockley violated city policy in creating it. It’s still unclear how the council determined that Shockley created the document, which was posted anonymously.
The meeting ended with the mayor facing intense criticism over his handling of Martinson’s contract and Shockley’s survey. Robinson led a handful of Unalaskans in asking Kelty to leave office.
“I think you should resign, Frank," he says. "If you don’t, you will be facing an unpleasant and embarrassing recall."
Kelty responded by saying he’s “not a quitter.” His term will last until 2019 — unless there is a successful recall. Meanwhile, three city councilors are up for reelection this October.