On Tuesday the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will re-consider a two-month-old ordinance that seeks to re-work its term limits.
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 before being required to take a break in service. It also sought to redefine a term as three full years.
However, at the assembly’s early July meeting, several amendments offered by members changed Knopp’s ordinance so much that members of the assembly became concerned it needed to be mulled by the public again.
The assembly will hear public testimony on the matter Tuesday night during its regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the George A. Navarre Borough Building in Soldotna.
Currently, assembly members are limited to two terms, with the definition of a term being any or all of a three-year term.
As the ordinance stands after the assembly’s pervious motions, it would ask borough voters to consider increasing the existing two-term limit on service to a limit of two, full, three-year terms, plus any partial terms for a maximum of eight years service on the assembly.
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.
Knopp said Friday he felt his idea of a three term limit on assembly members had been chopped up. The amendments defeated the idea behind the proposed ballot question, he said, adding the assembly took “all the meat and potatoes” out of it.
“I wanted the voters to weigh in on whether they thought three terms was appropriate for assembly members,” Knopp said. “When the initial citizens’ initiative went to the ballot box, voters overwhelmingly said yes to term limits, which I agree with. The problem was that nobody at the time knew what the correct number of terms was. And the voters never had an option to consider it.”
Knopp said he doesn’t think the borough needs to put the question — as it stands now — on the ballot to define what a term is.
“I’m not sorry I brought it up — I think a term needs to be defined for sure, but that’s not something that needs to go to the ballot box,” he said. “That could just be done.”
Assembly member Hal Smalley made the motion that re-worked the ordinance as it currently stands.
“What I tried to do was leave it at the two terms that the voters passed,” he said. “Although I think that some voters had probably not anticipated that one year or less would be a term and it is by the current definition.”
Smalley said the ordinance would smooth out issues like short-term appointments and reapportionment, which occurs each decade.
“When you get appointed to a position in the middle of a term because someone has resigned or moved, or in the case of reapportionment every 10 years you have where assembly members will either be serving a one, two or three year term,” he said.
The ordiance would allow assembly members to serve a reasonable amount of time that keeps with voters’ intent, Smalley contends.
“It is possible that an individual such as myself could be elected this year, serve a term and then serve one term next year, so that would be the three years I’ve served plus the two, one-years for five years, but then I could run and serve another three year term and that would then be a total of eight years,” he said, describing how the ordinance might work if voters approve.
Assembly member Charlie Pierce said there has been a “lack of understanding of what the intent of the definition of a term is.”
Pierce said he was concerned about members term-limiting after just four years of service.
“I don’t believe the intent was to create that situation and so I think we’ll achieve that next Tuesday night ... and hopefully have a definitive idea of what a term is,” he said. “And of course that question will go to the street — what is a term? I think the voters will have an opportunity to say, ‘Yes, (the limit) is two, full three-year terms.’”
If the assembly approves the ordinance, it will go before voters in the October borough election for the ultimate decision.