The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly took action Tuesday to undo a veto made by Borough Mayor Dave Carey.
At its regular meeting, the borough assembly approved, 8-0, to overturn Carey’s veto of Ordinance 2011-24, which redefined borough assembly term limits to mirror the mayoral term limits. Bill Smith abstained from voting after assembly president Gary Knopp ruled Smith had a potential conflict of interest with the issue, stemming from his assembly candidacy.
Carey vetoed the ordinance Friday citing concerns the assembly did not follow proper public process when significant changes were made to the ordinance after public testimony in an early August meeting.
Those changes, made by amendments from assembly member Linda Murphy, were significant enough, Carey reasoned, that the public should have had an opportunity to vet them before approval.
Before voting to overturn the veto, the assembly heard several comments from the public, who were not in favor of the ordinance in general.
Ninilchik resident Ruby Denison thanked Carey for vetoing the ordinance and “protect(ing) what is left of the rights of the people.”
“The assembly has spent four months talking about a way to circumvent the term limits as they were passed by the people twice — in 2007 and 2009,” she said. “… It is just wrong for the assembly to ignore the vote of the people.”
Murphy acknowledged there was concern across the borough that wording under her amendments could allow an assembly member to serve 10 years on the assembly without being term limited.
“That was never the intent of that, or at least it wasn’t my intent … that should happen,” she said. “I think the likelihood of that happening is very small.”
However, Murphy said she would propose an ordinance at the assembly’s next meeting amending borough code to read, “that in no event shall any assembly member serve more than eight consecutive years without a break of 180 days.”
Murphy said she wished someone had mentioned public process concerns before the assembly approved the ordinance at its last meeting, so members weren’t put in a position to have to overturn a veto, or appear to be dodging public input.
She added later that she is “one of those people who believes we should follow the rules because process is important.”
“I regret that the attorney didn’t speak up and say something because that is the attorney’s job to let us know if perhaps we need to have another public hearing because the amendments we have made are substantial,” she said. “I regret that didn’t happen. I regret that I didn’t think of it and didn’t ask to postpone.”
Before the overturn of the veto, assembly members were limited to serving two terms, with the definition of a term being any or all of a three-year term, as result of a citizen initiative.
Several amendments were offered to Ordinance 2011-24, changing it from its original intent to add another term to assembly member service before being required to take a break.
The ordinance changed so much that members delayed voting to hear more public feedback. It was brought back at the assembly’s Aug. 2 meeting, where after two residents testified, the Murphy amendment was introduced and passed without being mulled by the public.
The Murphy amendment did not have to go before voters in the October election — a significant change from previous versions of the ordinance.
It will take effect on Oct. 14 and changed term limits to 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 Dianne MacCrea testified against the overturn of the veto and said that when it comes to term limits, “changing a word changes the world one way or the other.”
“I am a little offended that you are changing what it is — it’s sneaking around; it’s underhanded,” she said. “We feel that we are not being represented, but resented.”
Assembly member Brent Johnson originally voted against the ordinance. He said he would prefer to put the idea to the voters. However, the first meeting in August was the deadline for the assembly to place items on the ballot.
“I want to make perfectly clear that I support Murphy’s amendment,” he said Tuesday. “I think that it is just common sense that the assembly ought to get six years and there’s nothing irregular about that. We ought to get the same thing the mayor gets.”
However, Johnson said he found himself in somewhat of an “unpleasant situation.”
“I guess if I support the mayor’s veto and enough people do, then we will basically postpone this for a year and I don’t think that’s doing the people justice,” he said. “But, on the other hand, the people don’t have a choice now, and that’s not justice either. I certainly believe in the initiative process as the most sincere, basic type of government.”
After the veto was overturned, Smith said he would continue with his candidacy for a one-year term — due to reapportionment — on the assembly. Smith would have been term limited in October, had the veto not been overturned, after serving four years.
“Some people seem to be obsessed with terms but they accept six years as OK,” he said. “So it’s kind of not a very rational demarcation unless your intent is to give the assembly seats the maximum term possible and I don’t think that’s good government.”