Assembly divided on term limits issue

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will delay judgment on an issue concerning assembly term limits after significantly changing the original ordinance Tuesday.

Ordinance 2011-24 was introduced in early June by assembly president Gary Knopp and originally sought to add an extra term to the time assembly members could serve on the assembly before taking a break and redefine a term as a three full years.

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

However, after amendments offered by assembly members Bill Smith and Hal Smalley, the ordinance changed so much that members of the assembly became concerned it needed to be mulled by public again.

The assembly approved, 7-2, to postpone ruling on the ordinance until its next meeting on Aug. 2. Assembly members Mako Haggerty and Knopp opposed the motion to postpone.

As it stands after the assembly's motions, the ordinance asks borough voters to consider increasing the existing two-term limit on assembly service, which includes full or partial terms, to a limit of two, full, three-year terms, plus any partial terms for a maximum limit of eight years service on the assembly without interruption of at least 180 days.

It would prohibit an assembly member from serving on the assembly again until 180 days has passed since his or her last day of service.

"This was a lot to absorb," assembly member Sue McClure said. "I'm thinking about the people listening to this on the radio that would probably like to see some of this in writing and be able to have a chance to come to grips (with this idea.)

"I do think this accomplished what I was looking for to correct the inequity of the re-apportionment issue and I don't really think it is throwing people into longer terms, or going against voters' wishes."

Clam Gulch resident JoAnn Odd spoke out against the ordinance. She said the issue of term limits on assembly members "keeps coming back like a vampire every two years."

"It doesn't seem to be an issue for the mayor, the governor, or the president - it only seems to be with you nine people up there," she said. "I'd like to know how much time you have spent trying to thwart the will of the people. And you've said tonight at least a couple of times that, ‘Let's put this on the ballot and let the people vote on it.' Well, we have voted on this at least three times.

"It is easy for you to sit in an office, write up an ordinance and get it on the ballot," she continued. "We, the people, have to stand out in the weather ... to get the initiative on the ballot and you ignore it."

Smalley said he felt the ordinance and ballot measure would keep with the intent of the voter initiative establishing term limits and would fix the "problem" he said currently exists.

However, he added, the best term limits are voters.

"My personal belief is that we have had term limits from the very beginning and its called elections," he said.

Haggerty shared a similar sentiment, adding that term limits silence voters' voices.

"I don't think we should have term limits for this legislative body," he said. "I was compared to a president tonight, and to a governor and to a mayor - all who are under term limits. I appreciate that and thank you if you think that's what I am, but I am ... an assembly person that gets paid $400 a month. So ... it is not like we are influence peddlers up here. We are just trying to do the people's business and if you find someone that's doing the people's business, you want to keep them."

Knopp said he still doesn't feel two terms is the right number, but the amendments to the ordinance are still "better than what we had."

"When you give the voters a ballot question they have one option - term limits of two terms," he said. "They didn't have any other option. They supported term limits. They might have supported term limits with three terms, but we didn't ask them."

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