Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Ruben Duran. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Two Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly members made a move Monday to fire Borough Manager Ruben Duran, who has been on the job about seven months.

The motion to fire Duran failed in a 5-2 vote following an open discussion of his job performance. Duran requested the discussion be in public rather than executive session.

After stating that this wasn’t a witch hunt, Assembly Member Mike Painter led the charge against Duran. Painter said he has been told that morale is low among borough employees, and that Duran’s work hours are not regular.

“I’ve heard from many people that typically the borough manager comes to work at about 9:30 in the morning; 11:30, he goes to lunch; comes back from lunch at 1:30; by 3:30, he’s typically out of the office… The way I add that up, that’s four hours a day,” he said. 

Painter also was unhappy with Duran’s decision to purchase a mural by a local artist for the borough-run airport. The $7,500 mural bought under the borough manager’s discretion also was cited by Assembly Member John Harrington, the second vote to fire Duran.

Ricardo Burquez’s landscape mural of the town was created for a Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council exhibit last fall. A proposal was brought forward at that time that the borough and City of Ketchikan buy the mural for $15,000, and display it at Ketchikan International Airport. The Ketchikan City Council rejected that idea.

The artist more recently offered the mural for half the cost to the borough, and Duran – working with the Arts Council – purchased it for the airport. The manager is allowed to make purchase decisions up to $25,000 without Assembly approval.

Others on the Assembly defended Duran. Assembly Member Glen Thompson says he has heard nothing but praise for Duran from the majority of borough department heads. He added that the mural purchase didn’t violate any rules.

“As far as I can tell, the monies that were spent were spent properly under the appropriations that this body approved and placed in the manager’s hands,” he said. “If after the fact, we’re not happy with his decision, certainly we can tell him that. And I think he’s heard that maybe it could have been done a little bit differently tonight.”

Assembly Member Judith McQuerry, participating by phone, agreed that borough staff she talked to like Duran’s management style. Assembly Member Felix Wong said he appreciates Duran’s participation in community events. And Assembly Member Stephen Bradford said there are steps that should be taken before trying to fire someone.

Bradford asked whether Painter talked to Duran about his concerns. Painter said he had not.

In response to Painter and Harrington, Duran said he believes in empowering staff to make decisions, but some people don’t like that management style.

Duran said he has heard and accepts the concerns about his decision to purchase the mural. Other accusations, he said, he won’t respond to.

“I’m not going to respond to innuendo, second-hand comments. I’m always working. I’ve been working since I was 13 years old. I quite frankly don’t know how to stop. I enjoy it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “If I wanted to do something else, I’ll go do it. But while I am under contract with you, my fiduciary responsibility is to perform the duties of the borough manager and get the job done.”

Duran said he works at the office, at home and elsewhere.

The Assembly also talked at length Monday about community nonprofit grant funding. We’ll have more on that topic in a later report.