Fairbanks City Council holds contentious meeting

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - In the midst of a smoky night, the Fairbanks City Council meeting got heated.

Before most of the official business was conducted, Mayor Jim Matherly addressed a post on Council Member Kathryn Ottersten's Facebook page, calling into question his, and past mayors' use of city owned vehicles. Matherly said that he was not hiding the use of his vehicle. According to the mayor, after consulting his staff, he will be filing the use of the vehicle as income on his taxes, and will report that number in a future meeting. He went on to describe the post as a 'gotcha' move, and asked that council members address him when they have complaint. According to Ottersten, she had talked to the mayor before joining the council about the vehicle, but not afterwards.

"I'll buy you a decal for your personal car;" began Ottersten; "and one of those little Starsky and Hutch lights on top if you like, and you go out in the night in your car. I still think a town that's 7 miles wide and 6 miles north and south, there is no reason for a specialty vehicle for the mayor."

Councilmembers Jerry Cleworth and David Pruhs agreed with the mayor that the car should have been discussed in one of the many meetings the council has had after Ottersten joined roughly 8 months ago. Cleworth said the car itself is 11 to 12 years old, and that he had the option to use it when he was mayor. Pruhs went on to warn the mayor that more statements like this will popup because it is an election year.

"They're going after a car right now," began Pruhs. "The tried to record you earlier. Are they going to look at your housing cost next? Did someone give you a deal on housing? Your kid was accepted into a college on a scholarship, are they going to challenge that, say you did something there? You got a lot of mean militants after you."

In the same post used to address the car, Ottersten pulled her support from Ordinance No. 6109, which would put a property tax law change on the October ballot. Because it must be a unanimous decision to make it to the ballot, Ottersten's public statement against the ordinance effectively killed it. Cleworth, who drafted the bill, voted against it. His vote was in protest to a resolution he also drafted that was turned down moments before. Councilmember June Rogers said she would vote whichever way Cleaworth did, out of respect to the work he had done on drafting the bill. The ordinance, which at one point had the full support of the city council, including the mayor, only received two yes votes from members Valerie Therrien and Shoshana Kun. With its failure and no other bill in discussion, it is unlikely there will be any ballot measures for the city of Fairbanks this year. That includes Ordinance No. 6093, which addresses equal rights language in the city code.

The last item discussed by the council at the meeting was brought forward by Valerie Therrien. The Councilmember suggested having the mayor write a letter to the Alaska State Legislature voicing the council's support of overriding the governor's line item vetoes.

"I want to join many other Alaskan voices in supporting the overrides of the governor's vetoes," said Mayor Matherly.

Council Member Cleworth expressed that he did not feel like he was educated enough to say the legislature should overturn all of the 182 line item vetoes. In a vote of 4 to 2, the council moved to have the letter written, with Council members Pruhs and Cleworth being the nay votes. Mayor Matherly and his staff began drafting the letter Tuesday.