The Kenai Borough Assembly met in executive session Sunday, and then released a statement to the public further attacking borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.
The Assembly said it waived attorney-client privilege to say that in August it had asked Mayor Pierce to resign so it could more effectively settle a complaint against him. The Assembly and the alleged victim did not release all of the deliberations, but the part they released contained “specific aspects” — the side of the story that damages the mayor, as they seek to protect the Assembly’s reputation, after intense criticism that has come from the public over Assembly actions.
The Kenai Assembly on Friday had called an emergency meeting for Sunday after its sudden decision to install Democrat Mike Navarre was received poorly by the public on the Kenai Peninsula. Navarre, a Democrat, was tapped by the Assembly to fill in the remaining term of Mayor Pierce starting Oct. 1, and Assemblyman Tyson Cox has said that having Navarre in place will allow the Assembly to put a pause on the special election that is called for to fill out the year that remains in Pierce’s term. This is how the Anchorage Assembly operated after Mayor Ethan Berkowitz resigned in October of 2020.
Last week, the borough’s attorney issued a statement that contradicts what the Assembly said Sunday. Sean Kelly said there was no settlement agreement that required or called for Pierce to resign.
“I cannot comment on confidential internal investigations, except to say that there is not an ongoing investigation. In the interest of transparency, however, on July 14, 2022, the borough did engage the law firm of Ashburn & Mason to conduct a confidential, internal investigation. That investigation was completed in July. Any internal documents or memorandum prepared for the purpose of or regarding the investigation are covered by attorney-client privilege, or attorney work product doctrine, or constitutional individual privacy protections, and cannot be released absent court order. Accordingly, and to protect all borough employees’ privacy rights and participation in internal investigations, I cannot, at this time, confirm or provide any individual names concerning the investigation. It would be inappropriate on my part to infer otherwise,” said Sean Kelly, borough attorney.
“Mayor Pierce voluntarily resigned. There is no settlement agreement that required or called for Mayor Pierce to resign. There is no applicable settlement agreement. There has been no monetary settlement. There are no signed agreements,” he said. I cannot comment on threatened or pending litigation, including the existence or non-existence of threatened litigation, except to say that the KPB has not been served with a publicly filed quasi-judicial administrative or judicial complaint related to any of the allegations raised in Alaska Landmine story (or any other similar news stories on this),” he wrote.
But the Assembly has its own attorney through Ashburn & Mason, and in consultation with that lawyer decided to release just enough information to support their side of the story. The alleged victim of the “bullying, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation” had been hired by former Mayor Navarre, and Pierce had kept her on as an executive assistant after Pierce became mayor. She intends to stay on to work for incoming interim mayor Navarre, who is a co-chair for the Bill Walker for governor campaign. Pierce is also a gubernatorial candidate finalist for the Nov. 8 ballot.
The public comments during the open part of the meeting were not charitable toward the Assembly. People said the Assembly is trying to divert attention from the Assembly’s recent escapades, including the appointment of Navarre.
Assemblyman Tyson Cox, when asked why the Assembly decided to release a statement, said it was so he could get his side of the story out.