Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Rodney Dial took aim at challenger Katie Parrott during a forum with local municipal candidates on Wednesday. Dial, who’s running for a second three-year term, says Parrott’s role as the top finance official at Ketchikan’s school district presents an unavoidable conflict of interest.

Parrott fired back by accusing Dial of expanding the role of the mayor beyond what’s been approved by voters.

At a forum sponsored by Ketchikan’s Chamber of Commerce, Dial said Parrott’s day job as the school district’s business manager would prevent her from presiding over discussions of the school district’s budget during Borough Assembly meetings. He cited a privately-funded legal opinion posted on his campaign website.

“And that’s not just me saying that. That’s from a legal review by CSG Law Group out of Fairbanks,” Dial said. “It says you have a conflict of interest and you’re going to have to recuse yourself, and you will have divided-loyalty issues and other concerns.”

Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly has a limited – but significant – role in governing Ketchikan’s school district. While it doesn’t control things like curriculum and programming, it does wield a significant amount of power over the school district’s budget. Dial said that means Parrott would have to frequently recuse herself – and said the two offices could be incompatible under state law.

“She will have to give an ethics disclosure every time an education issue comes up. And there will be meetings that you will not be able to participate in. So you’re not going to be as effective as you think you were with education, respectfully,” Dial said.

Parrott responded by citing a section of borough code that says “No state or School District employee may be denied the right to serve as an elected municipal official because of their employment by the state or School District.”

She said she doesn’t see a conflict between the two roles.

“In terms of what I’ve spoken to in the past, I have one master. That is the citizens of Ketchikan. The school district and all of the business that’s aligned with that impacts this community and I can serve in that role and advocate for both,” Parrott said.

But she hinted near the end of the forum that she might be willing to address the potential conflict.

“I have a legal opinion that says there is no legal conflict of interest,” she said. However, I understand that the public trust is of the utmost and under those circumstances, I’m willing to make a change if that’s what the community wants.”

Parrott did not return a call by Thursday afternoon asking for more details.

The two candidates also sparred on the role of the borough mayor. Dial said he sees his role as the chief advocate for the community. He says there are certain things the mayor can do that the borough manager or staff can’t. Dial says he has developed a relationship with Governor Mike Dunleavy, which has led to his appointment to several state boards and commissions.

“I also had over 200 COVID meetings during the pandemic. I could never have done that if I had a day job,” he said. “So I see my role as to be out there on a daily basis talking to the developers, and the contractors and the state officials, and the Congressional delegation and to work together to bring the money into this community that we need to thrive going forward.”

Parrott accused Dial of going beyond the powers laid out in borough code. She said the mayor should be a ceremonial, non-partisan facilitator of the borough’s business.

“And I will tell you that I am extremely concerned about an approach that unilaterally decides on behalf of the community that we are not going to operate under the strong manager role of government that we have,” Parrott said. “To unilaterally decide that we are now going to now operate under a strong mayor form of government goes outside of the process that has been established to make those decisions for our community.”

Municipal election day in Ketchikan is October 4. Early voting is open now. There’s more information in KRBD’s Voter Guide.

The full forum can be viewed below.