Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Sean Kelley on Sunday addressed questions surrounding the resignation of Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce in an email sent to members of the press.
Pierce announced last Friday that he would resign as borough mayor, effective Sept. 30, to focus full-time on his 2022 gubernatorial bid. Pierce, who has served as mayor since 2017, announced his run for governor in January. He was re-elected mayor in 2020.
Pierce has not responded to requests for comment made by the Clarion. As reported by the Anchorage Daily News, Pierce said in January he planned to keep his job through the August primary, then work on an exit plan if he advanced to the general election.
Unofficial, preliminary election results from the Alaska Division of Elections show Pierce and running mate Edie Grunwald set to advance to the November general election. Their ticket has received about 6.59% of the more than 191,000 votes counted, as of about 7 p.m. on Aug. 26.
In Sunday’s email, Kelley shared a legal contract between the borough and Anchorage firm Ashburn & Mason. That contract says the firm was hired to conduct a confidential, internal investigation, which Kelley said concluded in July. Per the contract, the borough was charged $350 per hour for services provided by Thomas Wane. That’s in addition to any other fees incurred.
“We have been engaged to provide legal services in connection with an HR (Human Resources) investigation, the preparation of a confidential report to the Borough’s Risk Management Committee, and, if required, the defense of any claims that might arise out of the subject matter being investigated,” the contract’s “scope of service” section says.
Any documents regarding the investigation, Kelley wrote, cannot be released “absent court order” because they are covered by attorney-client privilege, attorney work product doctrine or constitutional privacy protections. Kelley wrote he could not at this time confirm or provide names concerning the investigation, citing the aforementioned policies and to protect employee privacy rights.
“Mayor Pierce voluntarily resigned,” Kelley wrote. “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.”
The comments are in reference to a post made last week by the political website The Alaska Landmine, which said Pierce resigned because of allegations of workplace misconduct, citing anonymous sources. Kelley said in Sunday’s message, in which he named the Landmine article, that he could not comment on threatened or pending litigation.
“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),” Kelley wrote.
A search of online court records shows no recent filings naming the borough or Pierce as defendants.
The Clarion has not been able to confirm the claims made by the Landmine story.
Kelley’s email came hours before Peter Zuyus, a consultant for Pierce’s gubernatorial campaign, announced that he would be leaving the campaign. Zuyus said in a statement that his departure is effective Sept. 1 and that he was contracted to help Pierce advance to the November general election. Zuyus said his own departure from the campaign did not have anything to do with Pierce’s resignation from the borough.
“I left the campaign after accomplishing the goal of bringing Charlie and Edie to the top four,” Zuyus said of the campaign Monday.
Pierce’s Friday resignation came days after the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly held two closed-door meetings for an “attorney-client discussion regarding litigation strategy on a specific legal matter that may have an immediate adverse effect upon the finances of the borough” — two of the grounds permissible to hold an executive session under Alaska’s Open Meetings Act.
Assembly member Tyson Cox declined Monday to comment on the nature of the executive session.
Per borough code, all discussions and information disclosed during an executive session must be kept confidential. A person who received executive session information “shall not disclose that information” to anyone who was not in the session.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.