Assembly takes action on term limit issue

After Murphy amendment, no ballot question needed

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved Tuesday a two-month-old ordinance that, through amendments, became a shadow of its original intent.


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.

On Tuesday, public hearing yielded two testimonies from residents, but an amendment from assembly member Linda Murphy changed the ordinance again.

That change was enough to draw criticism from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey who thought more public involvement was needed.

The ordinance entered the meeting with language that would have asked 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.

The Murphy amendment deleted that language and added a section that mirrored almost exactly the mayoral term limits.

The ordinance, which will not go before voters in the October election, was approved, 8-1, with assembly member Brent Johnson voting against the measure. It will take effect on Oct. 14 or upon pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice, which ever occurs later.

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

In October, the new term limits will read that "no person who has completed two consecutive full terms on the assembly may serve another term or portion of a term until a period of 180 days has passed since the end of his second consecutive full term of office.

"A full term of office means the regular term of office for assembly and does not include portions of a term served by appointment or election to the remainder of an unexpired term vacated by another person or to a truncated term resulting from assembly redistricting."

Kasilof resident George Pierce said the ordinance, before the Murphy amendments were made, were "making it to where you got to be a rocket scientist to figure out whether you need to vote yes, maybe or no."

"It seems like it is kind of undermining to discourage people from voting and we have a major voting problem here anyway, and to make it to where people can't understand it, why go vote?" he asked. "I can't understand it and that's what's happening."

Murphy said that for "consistency's sake" term limit definitions for assembly members should match the mayor's. She argued passage of her amendment would be sufficient to enact it, and the measure would not need to be placed on the ballot.

"We are not attempting to change the number of terms that the voters voted for in both 2007 and 2009," she said. "What I would like to see us do is to redefine what a full term on the assembly is."

Johnson said he wanted to see it go on the ballot and asked Murphy if she would "bend that much" before voting against the amendment and ultimately the ordinance.

"The voters spoke and now I think the voters need to weigh in on it, whether or not we have to or don't have to," he said. "I just want to."

In response, Murphy said she "sees no reason" voters need to be asked.

"The majority of voters in this borough when they voted for this ... just saw a limit of two terms," she reasoned. "They were not thinking about re-apportionment when someone who is elected next year may get a one year term and then be termed out after four years on the assembly. I'm sorry, I disagree."

Assembly member Mako Haggerty said he felt it was assembly members' duty to "make some hard decisions" and "this may be one of them."

Carey, however, took issue with another aspect of the ordinance's approval. He said the nature of the Murphy amendment did not allow the public time to participate in a controversial issue.

He said that amounted to "bad policy."

"I think we had many people here to talk about whether or not it should go on the ballot," Carey said. "What we did tonight with an amendment provided this afternoon, we did away with the election and the assembly just took the action. I question if that was a good public process. I have to think that if notice had gone out, if it had been part of the agenda ... people would have shown up if they would have known that this assembly was going to make a substantial change to the ordinance."

Assembly member Charlie Pierce disagreed with Carey.

"What we did was that we defined what a term was, three years, and what it says is that you can serve two terms and I think that is what the people voted on - two terms," he said.