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Council talks code changes, adding position

Posted: September 23, 2011 - 8:00am  |  Updated: September 23, 2011 - 8:46am

Kenai's City Council discussed code changes, legal counsel for the planning and zoning commission and an additional position in the parks and recreation department at its Wednesday night meeting.

The council voted unanimously to increase the expected value of state revenue sharing in the budget, and use the additional funding for a position in the parks and recreation department.

Councilman Bob Molloy asked for an amendment so that the position will be reviewed in the next budget cycle to see if it can be funded despite any possible surprise increases, like the council faced with health care costs this year. That amendment passed, with councilmen Brian Gabriel and Ryan Marquis voting against it.

The job was part of the original budget until health care became a financial sticking point.

Councilman Terry Bookey said he worked for that department a number of years ago, and thought the position was sorely needed.

The council also discussed an ordinance that would have designated the city clerk as the official responsible for changing clerical and technical changes to Kenai Municipal code to correct simple errors. Ultimately, the full council - minus Councilman Mike Boyle who was absent - voted to postpone the ordinance indefinitely, which effectively killed it. That was student representative Austin Daly's first vote on the council, and she was the first member of the council to cast a vote on the issue.

Bookey, who made the motion for postponement, said he wanted to see the council wait until a permanent clerk is hired to get his or her input on such an action.

Marquis said he'd rather consider such a change at a time when the council was looking to make a number of small changes to the code.

City attorney Krista Stearns explained that the ordinance was brought forward in part at the request of Linda Murphy, a consultant working with the city of Kenai to hire a new clerk and filling in with some of the clerk's duties until that is done. Murphy noticed that there was no process for making small typographical or other simple changes if the council passed an ordinance and something needed to be updated. Stearns said she thought the change made sense, as in the past, all such changes have had to come before the council to be made, even if they were as simple as updating the city's address.

Gabriel asked if such changes could be dealt with as a discussion item at a council meeting, but Stearns said that would not work. Changes to city code typically require an ordinance.

The council decided to wait and see before providing legal counsel to the planning and zoning commission, but asked city administration to offer training to all members of that commission. Previously, three commissioners were able to attend a November planning conference in Fairbanks; now any interested commissioner can attend.

Councilman Joe Moore said he wanted to offer that body legal counsel as they had requested it.

"I really feel like we're leaving the planning and zoning commission out to dry," Moore said.

The council discussed the request, but most were concerned about the cost of providing additional counsel. That cost could be a factor because the city attorney said if she offers advice to the commission on an issue that later comes before the Board of Adjustment, she cannot serve the city council when it acts as that board. Stearns said it was a matter of professional ethics. In such a situation, the city would then have to hire outside counsel.

Stearns did note that she can and has provided information before a meeting on possible action.

In other business, the council:

  • Voted to amend Kenai's city code so that boats shorter than 20 feet long are exempt from the city's personal property taxes. Taxes on boats of that size are about $13.
  • Accepted a donation for disc golf equipment, and discussed the popularity of the course and possibility of adding baskets at another site.
  • Authorized the city manager to enter into an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to continue studying the bluff erosion project.
  • Held an executive session regarding the city's negotiation with Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska on that entity's purchase of mineral rights, easements and access to pore space. The session was partially corrective, to make-up for an Aug. 18 special meeting held on the issue that was not advertised in the usual place on the city's website.
  • Honored Olivia Pfeifer for an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for her 2009 Caring for the Kenai project.

Council addresses Freas’ party

Near the end of its regular meeting on Wednesday, Kenai’s city council had a lengthy discussion about the retirement party held for Carol Freas in June.

Councilman Joe Moore brought the issue up as a discussion item, and councilman Bob Molloy provided documentation and a verbal report on how the party was planned. Molloy said it was a “pleasure and a privilege” to help with the planning process, which began while the mayor was out of town. Vice Mayor Mike Boyle also helped plan the party, as was his responsibility with the mayor gone, but was unable to participate in Wednesday’s meeting.

No city policies or ordinances were violated in planning the event or spending the money. Councilman Terry Bookey said he thought the council could consider creating a policy if they didn’t want this to happen in the future, but didn’t like that they were discussing the June party so long after it happened. The discussion “almost throws soil on the event that we had,” Bookey said.

Much of the work, and funding, came from individuals not involved in city government. Molloy’s memo said that about $1160 was spent from city funds on the party and gift. At least $500 was spent from private donations on the party, and the council members individually contributed about $450 to the city’s gift to Freas.

Mayor Pat Porter and Moore said they were not happy with the process that allowed for the expenditures. Porter also said she didn’t appreciate being left out of the loop.

City Manager Rick Koch said the city will fix a payroll issue, where a city employee was originally compensated for their work in planning with a gift card.

Moore had asked that the payroll issue be resolved.

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