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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

City of Ketchikan Mismanagement

By Douglas Thompson


February 25, 2016
Thursday AM


I wonder if the reality of the Ketchikan municipal budget has sunk in to local taxpayers? Most of us have received this year's tax bill recently and it is not pleasant. Right now you could be paying zero in property tax. Zero. A sum that would not impact any perceivable services to the citizenry. All that is required is a little maturity and fiscal discipline. Qualities which are totally absent at present. This is due to the unrestrained rule of "King" (called that by the Ketchikan City Council) Karl Amylon. The council in their sycophantic frenzy to curry favor with Amylon costs local taxpayers millions of dollars. Not only is he paid an absurd salary for a town of 7,000 people but the council then 'gifts' him with additional tax dollars.

As anyone who is a long time reader of Sitnews will know I have protested this costly extravagance for many years. Amylon's tyranny and single handed rule of this town is expensive beyond belief and needs to end. The council needs to find a spine and actually do their job which is to provide efficient government not have a private social club at taxpayer expense.

This past fall I was evicted from the harbor after more than forty seven years of having a stall. During that time my stall has always been well kept and fees promptly paid. In a move that can only be described a political retribution I was told to remove my boat from the harbor or it would be seized, sold and I would be billed for any and all fees and expenses. In a front page article in the Ketchikan Daily News last year councilman KJ (apparently he has no name just initials - he is was a bartender) promised to "get even with anyone who dissents from the council's (read Amylon's) views". This seems to be such a case.

The harbormasters have said my boat was neat and well maintained. Yet they arbitrarily evicted me. I was never given any logical reasoning for this move although they tried many flimsy excuses among which were these. Your boat's engine and steering are not operable and an outboard does not count. Something that has never been required. The museum barge, ferries, and a myriad of vessels would not qualify under that rule. All these and many more are overhauling their engines or just don't have any. They went so far as to state that no propulsion counts except that powerplant designated by the original architect! Utter nonsense under which a large majority of the boats in the harbor do not qualify. For health and safety you have to be able to maneuver in the harbor. But using an outboard does not count. Which is news to the extreme number of outboard powered boats and boats with auxiliary outboard power as well as to the outboard vendors who sell them. Then they tried a laughable one, We might have to board and start your vessel to move it was stated. They do not have the authority, training or qualifications to board a documented vessel (requires a federal marshal or designee). Most boats of size are not 'turn key' and they wouldn't have a clue how to start one. Liability issues alone would preclude such an endeavor. Who leaves the key in their boat anyway? Historically harbormasters have rarely if ever been present when a vessel was moved and if it were really needed that is why they have the city provided harbor vessels to tow any such vessel. So that was a joke that they quickly abandoned. Even with their limited abilities they could see that wouldn't fly.

Then the ignorant harbormasters tried to invoke "seaworthy" but had no clue what it legally meant. When pushed they would just endlessly repeat that the boat had to be operable under its original power. Something neither required nor logical in any statute applicable. They really weren't bright enough to have a conversation with and clearly were under orders with no idea why.

Over the years one of the uses of the harbor moorage is to overhaul the boats and it has always been a legitimate task. My 26 foot Tollycraft is my hobby and I have the goal of rebuilding it to my satisfaction in my own time and within my budget. It was in no way abandoned or infringing on the dock in any way. On the contrary it was well looked after heated and kept up. I have often shoveled snow, pressure washed and removed floating debris that should have been done by the harbormasters.

The harbor department claimed the right to test me and see if I could "safely maneuver entering and leaving the harbor". Under advice from my lawyer I did demonstrate this ability although I maintain they do not have the authority to require such demonstration (and they certainly haven't tested the operators who have run into my boat in the past!). That authority to license and test resides with the federal and state governments. It would be the same thing as requiring a "Ketchikan Drivers License". Even so this requirement was not applied to all in the harbor just a select few. And when it was passed that was ignored. I was told an outboard didn't count unless you were a sailboat! I was also told by these fools that a sailboat was approved even if it had no other means of propulsion than just a sail. I would like to see a sailboat dock and undock in the harbors under sail alone in a safe manner! These were patented jibberish excuses to cover up the real reason which was to punish me for speaking out against Amylon.

The closest thing to a reason I was given was by the harbormaster's ass (really that is the way he signed his letter!) was him telling me "we have a waiting list for stalls and are trying to empty them"!!! A really great reason. Get rid of a proven good customer for an unproven gamble who may or may not pay on time. What business wouldn't do that? Although I could see the logic when applied to harbormasters themselves. There is a long list of applicants for city jobs why not evict the old timers and give their jobs to the new ones on the list? Saves an awful lot of expensive benefits. Good logic harbormasters! Your fellow city employees should thank you. This is not to even address how a new stall renter would feel about having an expensive boat in a stall where he could be evicted at moments notice on the political whim of some petty bureaucrat.

This is all done under the cover of an ordinance passed by the Council giving the power to declare anyone a "nuisance" to the harbormaster. This term is defined so loosely that it covers anyone at any time. Such broad laws are held unconstitutional. You can be evicted if you are having a beer on your boat! There is no avenue of appeal and the harbormaster's word is deemed final. It doesn't get much more unconstitutional. This statute was originally intended so that a boat sinking at the dock and damaging the dock could be removed or a person piling garbage on the docks around their boat could be dealt with. Why it was written so broadly is inexcusable and should have been rectified by the council. I hired Clay Keene to talk to the city attorney thinking that this abuse of power would be halted there. I was told that they would go to court and it would cost me more than my boat was worth to fight it. $500 please. It is a very closed circle in Amylonland.

I asked councilman Bob Siversten (now running for state house) to investigate. He agreed with me that this was ridiculous and went to talk with them. He was told by the harbormasters to in effect "mind his own business" and he retreated fully once again abdicating his responsibility as a councilman. I asked him to author an ordinance rewriting this broad nuisance law that was being abused to no effect whatsoever. Bob was told that 38 other people were being evicted as well. No reasons given but it can be assumed that they had offended the harbormaster some way to invoke this secretive process. He was also told that the harbormasters were getting or had the equipment to monitor vessel movement with the clear implication that if you did not use your vessel in a fashion approved you would be evicted at their whim. Although I have known Bob most of my life and went to school with him he very clearly flunks his assignment as a councilman and I cannot recommend him for the state house where we need more leadership not less.

I was also offended in that for the harbormaster to discover what they were complaining about he had to trespass on my boat without my permission. Hatches had to be lifted without any probable cause. My boat was one of the best moored and well taken care of in the harbor so there was never a reason for them to come aboard her.

Now let us also examine the hiring of this 'Corporan' or whatever his name is that Amylon hired in a newly made up position "Port Director" or some such fabrication at a very high salary. He has no known function other that to please King Karl. He was so little needed that for almost a year that position went empty when he was appointed "acting director of public works". Sycophant is a very mild term describing his relationship with Amylon. Southeast Stevedoring does all the dock assignments and support for cruise ships with no need whatsoever from a retired coasty with no experience whatsoever. We got along quite well without that position for many years before Amylon decided to create it.

It was not very long ago that this town had a harbormaster and one assistant with the same number of stalls. Now we have two secretaries and perhaps a dozen or more harbormasters (I counted six in the office at one time in October) a huge office building and numerous city vehicles. They are even now advertising for two more harbormasters. The harbor rates are going up. A remodel of a recent remodel by the Salvation Army is another costly extravagance if planned would have been needless. Any actual work on the docks and harbors is contracted out. The harbor department does nothing but grow and cost money with very little function. They cost several million dollars per year.

They charge a "launch fee" for trailers yet by there own figures it cost more money to administer than it takes in. It has no function other than to penalize local citizens who wish to launch their boats. Maintenance and upkeep is handled once again by contract and state funds. The launch fee is used to justify two harbormasters riding around in city vehicles all day long increasing the 'needed' staff. It takes two of them riding in a large four wheel drive truck burning city gas to "check the used oil" barrels which if found full are emptied by other city employees not harbormasters! In the summer on good days they ride around in one of the three expensive boats provided by the city (you won't find them out at all in any rain or wind, not on the water and certainly not on the docks--check the coffee room in their ornate office building). We spent millions on an office building under the guise that restrooms were needed yet it is closed all winter.

Don't rest easy if you have your own private float on private land. When the term Port Authority was invoked they took control of all the surrounding waters in the area. No vote needed. So if they choose they can dictate to you how your dock will be run and used. Just as they were telling me how long I could take for installing my new engine and the resulting costs. Regardless of my priorities and budget.

Because they are so patently useless (has anyone actually seen a harbormaster doing any actual work other than strolling around on good days with a radio?? They certainly don't clean or maintain the docks nor remove snow.) they have to curry favor with the city manager. This keeps the money flowing to them. They have large salaries, city cars to drive which the city maintains and provides fuel for, excellent benefits and no labor required. That provides a lot of vacuum!

The harbormasters in Ketchikan have long been a depot for undesirables and non producers (if you would like we can discuss the history of thieves and perverts that have inhabited the department over time) who were given a soft spot to ride out their time. Then there have been the carpetbaggers who came and left with their pockets filled with tax dollars. These are people with no qualifications, little if any knowledge, and certainly no expertise to justify their high salaries and benefits. There should be two (harbormaster and "ass") at minimum wage. Which leaves a large gap between what there is and what there should be.

City Government should not be a place where Amylon hands out gifts to his cronies of our tax dollars. Sitka can build an equivalent fire hall at a quarter of the price. Is that the management we pay so dearly for? No it is time for a responsible city government or it is time for the citizens to rule by initiative since the elected body refuses to get a dollar's worth of value for a tax dollar.

This one department alone could free up a thousand (1000) homes from paying any property tax as a rough calculation. So it all comes down to mismanagement, bad politicians, and high taxes.

That all this can be done in secrecy in a supposed free society is all the more galling. We don't need petty despots running our town. Take a look at the city structure for a town of 7000 in this country. Take a look at their average operating budget. Then if you can look at what Ketchikan spends. Pretty disgusting to say the least. Having an incompetent manager and gutless council is very very expensive. The harbor department is only one example in a long long list of expensive waste.

Once they take aim at you especially if you have had the effrontery to exercise your constitutional rights the petty tyrants have no law controlling them as they will steam roll you with your own tax money. You truly get just as much justice as you can afford. That does not amount to much in Ketchikan.

I understand how it works, I understand why it works but that doesn't mean I have to accept this waste and abuse of power.


Douglas J. Thompson
Ketchikan, Alaska


Received February 24, 2016 - Published February 25, 2016

Related Information:

City of Ketchikan's Harbors






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