Politics & Government

Begich, Anchorage Assembly at odds over union contracts

Months of simmering quarrels about what the Anchorage Assembly knew, didn't know or should have known when it approved long-term labor contracts late last year broke into the open this week in a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations between some members and former Mayor Mark Begich, now a U.S. senator.

At issue are five-year union contracts that cover wages and workplace rules for hundreds of the city's employees. Mayor Dan Sullivan and some Assembly members say the contracts are complicating attempts to balance future budgets in the wake of the national recession.

Here's the latest:

• In e-mails sent to news media late Tuesday night, Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr released a series of e-mails among top Begich administration officials he obtained through a public records request. Starr said the e-mails demonstrate the Assembly was deliberately misled "on the fiscal condition of the city" and whether the city would have enough money to pay for the new contracts.

• On Wednesday morning an opinion by a private attorney hired by the Assembly concluded that two of the contracts are invalid because Begich's chief financial officer didn't certify that funds to cover the five-year agreements had been appropriated. Some members, and the financial officer in question, have said that can never happen because the city appropriates money for its budgets annually, not years in advance.

• Begich soon responded with a pair of written statements. One calls Starr's allegations "outrageous, untrue and entirely unsupported by the facts," and accuses Starr of spinning the labor issues for political gain. The second Begich statement addresses the attorney's opinion and insists that the labor agreements were fully vetted by his legal and labor relations departments. "Every labor contract that my administration submitted to the Assembly for approval was done so with complete information and fully in compliance with the law ..."

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