Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly approved an exception to its nepotism policy on Monday.

In a small town like Ketchikan, it can be difficult to avoid hiring relatives, Borough Manager Ruben Duran told Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly.

“We have a number of siblings, nieces, nephews, parent/child, that work in the borough. We’re a small island. And we want to hire from here,” Duran said.

That could lead to questions about unfair treatment at work. But Duran says there’s an important guardrail against nepotism.

“They don’t supervise. We are very careful on making sure there’s not a supervision. And we’ve not had a situation where somebody got promoted up and all of the sudden is supervising.” Duran said.

It’s laid out in borough code: the borough can’t employ immediate relatives of assembly members, the borough manager or the assistant borough manager without assembly approval.

Duran says he recently offered the job of assistant borough manager to the borough’s finance director, Cynna Gubatayao. But there was a problem: her daughter works as a secretary at Ketchikan’s borough-run airport. That would run afoul of nepotism rules.

Duran says it’s unlikely the two would ever work closely together. He explained that Gubatayao’s daughter is supervised by the airport manager. And since a recent organizational shakeup at the borough, the airport manager reports directly to Duran. He says Gubatayao would only ever oversee her daughter’s work when she fills in as acting manager. And even then, she’d be a few layers removed. So Duran came to the assembly asking for an exception.

“This is the kind of thing we bring forward, why nepotism is important and we watch for it. We make sure that when we do hires and personnel actions, it’s merit-based. We go through that process. And that’s why we’re here today,” he said.

The assembly expressed no concerns and approved the nepotism policy exception unanimously. Gubatayao started work as assistant manager on Tuesday.

In other business, the assembly approved a contract with Mesa, Arizona-based SBJ International to help the borough purchase and install technology upgrades for its transit system.

Borough Transit Director Kyan Reeve says though some technologies are in place, expert advice is needed to keep up with constant changes.

“We have all kinds of different technologies on the buses, in our maintenance facilities that all have to communicate with one another. They also have to communicate with apps that are on people’s phones. We want to be to integrate with the state’s systems, like their 5-1-1 system, other things.”

He says technologies already in place include text messaging interaction where people can text about next bus arrival, and digital bus passes. Reeve said he would like to see digital signage at key bus stops so those without cell phones can know when the next bus is due in.  Reeve says the consultants would help the borough determine which technologies make the most sense for the community.

Award of the $62,000 contract passed unanimously.

The assembly also unanimously accepted two loans from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for drinking water projects. A $1.6 million loan is slated to fund a water storage tank in the Ravenwood neighborhood, though public works officials say the project is not yet fully funded. The other, for $225,000, is set aside for a master plan for the South Tongass water system.

The assembly also unanimously accepted a $100,000 DEC loan to find places where storm runoff is leaking into the Mountain Point area’s wastewater treatment system.

Also Monday night, AJ Pierce was reappointed as the borough’s vice mayor.