In a regular meeting moved from Thursday to Monday evening, the Ketchikan City Council discussed the future of the Port of Ketchikan operations and financial structures, in addition to approving several smaller motions.

The agenda item was requested by Council Member Mark Flora.

In an email to the Daily News on Monday, Flora said he was motivated to discuss the port issues to "address concerns expressed by a council member that we have not accomplished anything" in the time that has elapsed since the council in October 2020 rejected the offers from two companies to manage the port after the city issued a Request For Proposals in October 2019.

Flora began the discussion in Monday's meeting by saying that he thought it would be good to have the discussion, not only because of the concerns about a lack of progress in creating a port plan, but also because there are now two new City Council members who could weigh in on the topic.

"I thought (this meeting) might be a good time to maybe have a little bit of a re-set, revisit this, establish a new baseline," Flora said, adding, "I've got more questions than answers and many questions of my peers."

He mentioned that the prior council was "of the collective opinion that the status quo of what we had been doing for these years was not the way to go."

With that in mind, Flora said, he was looking forward to hearing some fresh ideas to answer questions such as where the direction for the port should be for the benefit of the entire community. Pondering what has worked in the past and what things need to be improved also would be critical, he said.

In answer to a question from Council Member Riley Gass, who asked what Flora meant by "status quo," Flora clarified: "Do we decide as a body — of course with input from the community — that what we have done for the preceding past few decades is the way to go? — 'it's ideal, it requires zero modification' and off we go."

Flora emphasized that the debt obligations and agreements connected to the port that must be maintained, but there are many parts that could be modified with a long-term plan in mind.

There also was the issue brought up by Gass and Council Member Lallette Kistler of the need to create an agreement with the Ward Cove Dock Company to charge for city-owned space at which to park the company's buses to discharge their cruise ship passengers.

Flora said that the transportation agreement issue would be brought as an agenda item early in 2022.

Council Member Judy Zenge suggested that the city hire a tourism manager, as Juneau recently did, who could focus on how to most efficiently manage the cruise ship tourism economy.

"I think that that's a really important function, to have a seat at the table," she said.

A tourism manager would report directly to the city manager and the council, which could be an advantage, she said.

"Tourism is our economic driver and yet we're not putting any energy or money into it," she said, adding that because of the past decision to reject the outside company port management offers and to keep control of the port, "we need to do it right."

Acting City of Ketchikan Manager Lacey Simpson said that staff would contact Ketchikan Visitors Bureau President and CEO Patti Mackey to see what that organization could do in fulfilling the role of a tourism manager, as Zenge described it.

Flora added that he supported the idea of hiring a tourism manager who would be independent of the city's Port and Harbors Department, as well as the KVB, and who could handle the job that Zenge outlined in specifically managing the cruise ship economy for the city.

Council Member Abby Bradberry said she also "completely" supported the idea of hiring a tourism manager. In the meantime, she added, the council and city staff need to create a strategic long-term plan for the port.

Council Member Jai Mahtani also agreed that a port manager would be beneficial to the city, and would be a person who could work to build relationships with the city's partners, such as individual cruise lines and Survey Point Holdings — the company that leases Berth 4 to the city.

Gass pointed out however, that the city's finances are extremely limited following the loss of tax revenue due to COVID-19 pandemic-caused cruise season losses.

Flora and Council Member Janalee Gage emphasized that the 2022 season really is already set, as far as a new Port and Harbors Department director being hired by the end of the year, but that a longer-term plan could immediately be started to implement for the 2023 season, with the possible addition of a tourism manager.

Gage also stressed that there needs to be, as part of any long-term plan created, a way to find revenue to support the stress that cruise visitors put on upland infrastructure such as water, sewer and trash.

The council voted to direct staff to bring a tourism manager job description back to the council's meeting of Dec. 16. They also voted to direct the acting city manager to schedule meetings with cruise line partners to discuss the needs of the city following the pandemic stressors.

Bradberry, who brought the idea for the meetings with the cruise line partners, also suggested that the council work to create a fee structure for head tax and moorage that would automatically incrementally increase annually.

Also in Monday's meeting, the council unanimously approved:

• The re-hiring of auditing firm Teuscher and Walpole LLC for the city's 2021 financial and compliance audit.

• Authorizing the acting city manager to negotiate a new three-year insurance brokerage contract with Davies-Barry/Alliant Insurance Services. Davies-Barry is a local firm that has partnered with Seattle-based Alliant.

• A change order to a contract with BAM LLC in the amount of $102,639.50, which includes the addition of 45 days to the contract completion date for the $1.5 million Women In Safe Homes domestic violence shelter renovation project.

• A motion to accept the $363,500 bid of Delta Electric Motors to repair a broken-down generator at the Bailey Powerhouse.

The meeting was ongoing at the Daily News press time. A followup article is planned for publication.