On Thursday night, the Kodiak Island Borough assembly voted 5-2 against releasing eight confidential emails containing conversations between interim borough manager Bud Cassidy and borough attorney Cheryl Brooking about the hiring of borough assemblywoman Chris Lynch by the borough last summer.
In January, assemblyman Mel Stephens asked the borough to waive that privilege and release the emails into the public record. "Let's go ahead and release these; certainly no harm is going to come from saying we're releasing them," Stephens said Thursday night.
The assembly disagreed, but the Kodiak Daily Mirror has obtained copies of the emails.
While the emails reveal borough employees had concerns about the hiring, they do not show deliberate manipulation of borough code to bypass hiring rules.
Starting in May 2012, Lynch, as the sole employee of Kodiak Construction Services, was hired by then-borough manager Rick Gifford to work as a project manager on the proposed long-term care facility, the landfill expansion and other significant projects.
Gifford resigned soon after, and the issue of Lynch's hiring was dumped on the desk of Bud Cassidy, later named Gifford's permanent replacement. When Lynch's hiring drew the ire of the assembly, she resigned from her project manager position. Her time as project manager was worth approximately $38,000, according to bills submitted to the borough.
When the Lynch contract was revealed to the public, the Kodiak Daily Mirror officially requested access to emails leading up to the hiring. This request was turned down by borough officials who cited attorney-client privilege.
The eight emails cover a span of time from June 14 — shortly after Cassidy became interim borough manager — to Sept. 26, immediately before the first public assembly discussion of the contract.
"Say, one of the things that Rick left on his list of outstanding issues is Assembly member Chris Lynch involvement (through contract - do you have a copy?) with Borough projects," wrote Cassidy to Brooking on June 14. "I am not sure where you may be on this research, but it is something of high interest."
Five days later, Brooking replied: "This is an interesting question, but I have concluded that contracting with Chris Lynch's company is acceptable."
To support her assertion, Brooking attached a memorandum referencing relevant state and borough rules. That memo concluded with her key argument: "The Assembly Member is providing services that are unrelated to her official duties as an elected Assembly Member, and the Borough is not prohibited from contracting with the company for project management services."
With the hiring settled, borough staff asked whether the way Lynch was being paid fell outside the rules. Lynch was hired on a single contract but was allowed to issue purchase orders of up to $25,000 for each of nine projects she oversaw. According to borough rules at the time, any contract over $25,000 required assembly approval.
Did Lynch's contract violate that rule?
"It does look pretty bad though," wrote borough finance manager Karl Short on July 18. "I know if I was an assembly member or an outside auditor, I would ask what is going on."
Brooking agreed with those concerns in a Sept. 25 email. "This arrangement is a bit 'loose,'" she wrote.
Later, however, she said the borough did not violate its own rules. In a memo dated Sept. 26, Brooking wrote: "If it is treated as a single contract, it would be limited to $25,000 for total work done by the company, but it appears the intent was to treat the work done for each project as a separate contractual project."
While the email release addresses several outstanding questions, it does not answer how the hiring came about. In an email to Cassidy, borough information technology manager Paul VanDyke said he was unable to find any emails between former manager Gifford and Brooking about the Lynch contract. "They either don't exist or have been deleted," VanDyke wrote.