Mayor Castner and City Council clash over authority and mayoral proclamations

Oct 23, 2018

Credit Image Courtesy of the City of Homer

Homer Mayor Ken Castner’s first official Homer City Council meeting started off on a tense note this week. Castner clashed with council members on rules guiding the council’s authority while acting in his stead and the future of mayoral proclamations. 

Council member Donna Aderhold proposed a measure Monday to clarify the role of the mayor pro tem. It’s the role of the council member who serves as acting mayor while the mayor is away.

Council member Aderhold served as acting mayor for several meetings last year. She said the operating manual is unclear as to what an acting mayor's responsibilities are. 

“I'm just trying to make sure that the mayor pro tem and that the city clerk and the city manager understand clearly the role of the mayor pro tem when the mayor pro tem is running a meeting,” she said.

Right now, the operating manual grants the mayor pro tem with the same duties, responsibilities, and power of the mayor. Aderhold clarified this line by adding that those duties included agenda deadline and review, appointments to boards and commissions, and mayoral proclamations and recognitions, amid other changes.

However, Castner said the measure violated council bylaws.

“There can't be a second mayor, to have a second mayor is you guys crossing the line into my ability to operate…,” he said. “I campaigned on two different things and it sticks in my craw a little bit that, knowing that, we have a resolution to undo one of those things.”

Castner campaigned on the promise of not making proclamations or recognitions. He said the mayor pro tem should be able to preside over the meeting while he’s away. But he doesn’t believe acting mayors should be proclaiming anything.

“I don't want to go on vacation and be wondering what's going on back in Homer, Alaska because the new mayor pro tem has now decided to do whatever they thought they could do in my name,” he said.

He said the mayor does not have the power to give out proclamations and he believes this resolution would be giving the mayor pro tem powers that he doesn’t have. But City Clerk Melissa Jacobson said the mayor does have that power.

“According to your operating manual, the mayor is allowed to approve proclamations and appointments and so forth,” she said.

Many council members said that this wasn’t about usurping power but about making sure the council could function.

Council member Heath Smith is the newly elected mayor pro tem.

“I don't know that this is all about waiting until you [Mayor Castner] sneak off on vacation and somebody do something,"  he said. “I think there's some inherent safeguards to help the city continue to function should your absence be either permanent or on some extended leave.”

Castner called the resolution out of order, which would have prevented the council from voting on the measure. However, Aderhold appealed the mayor’s decision. Council members subsequently voted to pass the motion. Council member Tom Stroozas was the only one to vote against the measure.

But the tension over proclamations continued. Castner proposed a resolution to amend the council’s operating manual. Castner’s proposal mostly consisted of housekeeping items, but it also included a section that would remove mayoral recognitions and proclamations from the agenda.

Some council members, including Rachel Lord, expressed concern.

“I'm not particularly interested in changing our operating manual based on anyone's campaign promise and I understand, I do not expect proclamations and recognitions to happen under Mayor Castner,” she said. “That's fine.”

Council member Caroline Venuti gave an impassioned speech on what she saw the value of proclamations.

“I want to support you as a mayor, but I cannot vote for this because then the heart of the council will go out,” she said. “We'll just be numbers and facts and data.”

She said that the mayor may change his mind and wants council members to still present him with proclamations. 

Council member Health Smith also voted to amend the resolution because he said he didn’t think the resolution would pass otherwise. But he didn’t believe the provisions would hinder the mayor’s role down the line and spoke in favor of limiting proclamations temporarily.

“There was, I don't want to say abuse, but some things that had been introduced have been inflammatory and rather than picking and choosing, it becomes a little easier to just say no to everybody,” he said.

The council removed the section eliminating proclamations and passed the motion unanimously.

There were other points of tension in the meeting, such as when Castner suggested new ways of approaching the 2019 budget. He was also quick to stop council members when he felt they were going off topic.

The council next meeting will be a special  meeting on Nov. 1.