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Assembly passes on plan to shrink planning commission

Posted: September 8, 2011 - 9:48am

Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Brent Johnson said he had a clear idea what voters would want regarding discussions of how many members serve on the borough’s planning commission.

He said residents would likely prefer a leaner planning commission of 11 members instead of the current 13.

“They want smaller government, they want less government and they want to cut spending,” he said. “That’s what I hear everywhere.”

That’s why Johnson wrote and sponsored Ordinance 2011-07, which would have combined the Homer and Seldovia seats and the Ridgeway and Sterling seats on the commission as a money-saving measure.

The assembly ultimately overturned the proposal 3-6 at its regular Tuesday meeting. Johnson, assembly member Ray Tauriainen and assembly president Gary Knopp voted for the measure.

Homer City Manager Walt Wrede said the Homer City Council passed a resolution opposing Johnson’s ordinance in April.

“I think it was the feeling of the city council that the borough assembly made a wise choice when they decided to have individual seats for city governments,” Wrede said.

There are some issues, he contends, a commissioner from Seldovia wouldn’t be able to represent Homer on.

“Homer shouldn’t be penalized just because it has got a close proximity to Seldovia,” he said.

He urged the assembly to reject the ordinance, but said it was admirable Johnson is looking to save the borough money. However, the ordinance’s savings “aren’t significant in the big picture.”

The cost of providing Seldovia a seat on the commission is “nearly twice” the cost of other commissioners, according to borough information.

Seldovia city manager Tim Dillon also opposed the measure. He said he understands why the city would be considered, but urged the assembly to find an alternative solution that “will not disenfranchise a community.”

“The point is that we are very small, but we are a first class city with individuals that have served and want to continue to serve the borough,” Dillon said. “We in Seldovia bring a unique view, approach and passion to planning.”

Assembly member Mako Haggerty agreed, adding there are “no better planners than Seldovia residents.”

“When we talk about government and big government, I find it humorous that something like a planning commission is equated with big government because that is actual citizen involvement,” Haggerty said. “That’s the type of involvement that we want to encourage, not discourage.”

Assembly member Sue McClure agreed adding that if “it isn’t broke don’t fix it.”

“What it is doing by reducing government is also reducing representation and one of the things I continue to encourage is citizen involvement,” she said “As one who represented a city on the planning commission … I sat there with the representative from Seldovia and even though neither of us had that many specific issues, I think we bring from the cities our own perspectives.”

Johnson, who served on the planning commission for 15 years, defended his ordinance on the grounds that during the first six years of his service, there were only 11 members on the commission.

But, they “always got the job done with no problem,” he said.

“All this basically is trying to do,” Johnson said, “is make efficient government and I still think … the most efficient form for the planning commission is to stay with 11 members.”

Johnson also noted that the planning commission would likely soon have to expand to 14 members based on the results of the 2010 U.S. Census if action wasn’t taken.

Tauriainen said the ordinance was a “classic case” of less government being better.

“I don’t agree that by reducing the number of commissioners some areas will be disenfranchised,” he said. “I can say the same as Brent that each commissioner looks at each issue and looks at it on the merits, not where the location is.”

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