Assembly to mull term limit adjustments

An ordinance introduced by Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly president Gary Knopp seeks to add another term to the current term limits on assembly members and redefine just what constitutes a term.

Ordinance 2011-24, introduced on June 7 and up for public hearing at the assembly’s next meeting on July 5, will limit assembly members to serving three full terms, an increase from the current two terms.

If the ordinance passes the assembly, it will then need to go before borough voters in October for a final decision.

Knopp said before the assembly’s Tuesday meeting that he considered two terms “the wrong number.”

“Three terms is the right number and that is what I am asking the voters to consider on a ballot question,” he said.

Currently, assembly members are limited to two terms, with the definition of a term being any or all of a three-year term, borough attorney Colette Thompson said.

In addition to asking voters for an increase in the number of terms to three consecutive terms, the ordinance will also ask voters to redefine a term to be a full three years.

“What that means is that if someone serves a portion of a term, they could serve that in addition to the three, three-year terms,” Thompson said.

Current term limits were established in 2007 and approved again in 2009 as a result of a citizen initiative driven by the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers.

“The assembly does not like term limits — they are just like every other body and they just don’t like term limits on them,” said Mike McBride, a member of ACT’s board of directors. “It is OK on the administration, but it is not OK on them.”

Citizen initiatives are guaranteed a two-year protection period where the assembly can’t pass an ordinance affecting the voters’ decision, or doing away with the ordinance.

Protection for the 2009 term limit initiative expires on Oct. 13 this year. Thompson said amendments would likely be offered from the assembly to set an effective date sometime after Oct. 13, if it passes through the assembly.

McBride said the results of both elections in 2007 and 2009 lead he and other ACT members to believe the voters want the current term limit structure limited at two terms.

“And that’s what the people want,” he said. “Again, the assembly is saying that they want to increase that to three terms and I think what they are doing is they are going to trick the public into thinking they are passing term limits, when in reality, nobody will ever be term-limited out again because the public will pass it thinking that they are voting for term limits … but before we get close to nine years, guess what, it is going to go away — they are going to repeal it.”

He said ACT members would be opposing the measure at the assembly’s July 5 meeting.

Knopp said he was in favor of the idea of term limits and stressed he was “not trying to undo term limits.”

But, he thinks the current structure needs work to make assembly members as effective as possible.

“My take on it is that you spend the first three years simply learning the job,” he said. “The second term you have established some credibility, you know how things work, you are starting to get things down and you have built some rapport with your assembly members and the public and more importantly even elected officials in Juneau and Washington D.C. as you are trying to move legislation. So, you are kind of at your prime there.”

The third term would allow members to still be effective while preparing to step away from public service.

“But if you are getting tired after nine years — it is probably time to move on,” he said.

There are also a number of other reasons Knopp said he considers the ordinance to be worthy of consideration.

“With the new (Alaska Public Offices Commission) reporting requirements, people just will not sign up to fill these positions for no more compensation than what is there,” he said. “It is not about the compensation, don’t get me wrong, but with the burden of trying to fill out that public disclosure form, people are not interested.

“If you get candidates that are sitting up here and are familiar with that and are willing to serve a third term, you should by all means encourage them to do so.”

The ordinance will also redefine the amount of time assembly members must sit out before running for election again from three years to 180 days. Knopp said in most cases candidates will have to sit out a full term to run again anyway, unless the candidate moves to a different district.

He said the shorter period would help in case a resident needed to be appointed to fill a vacant seat.

“It could be that your out-going candidate is the best choice, but by making him wait three years, he is not even an option to be reconsidered and he may be the only candidate willing to step back in,” Knopp said.

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