Service area board change mulled

Assembly postpones vote on ordinance

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday continued discussion of an ordinance that could mean major changes to how residents are placed on the borough's various service area boards.

 

At its meeting in Seward, the assembly postponed Ordinance 2012-07, which would establish a process to appoint all service area board members instead of being elected under the current system.


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No members of the public testified to the assembly on the issue.

Currently, board members of the borough's 14 service areas are elected during the regular October borough election, except for the road service area board. Vacancies from board member resignations during a term, or from no candidates running for a seat, are filled by the service area boards through a vote. The borough mayor and assembly are not currently part of the process.

Under the ordinance introduced by assembly member Linda Murphy, those interested in serving on service area boards would fill out an application which would then go to both the mayor and service area board for consideration. The mayor would then consider recommendations from the service area board before making the appointment, which would ultimately come back to the assembly for confirmation.

The borough clerk's office said the idea would save thousands of dollars if passed. The ordinance states appointed boards may increase public interest in board service and would significantly reduce time and expense involved in borough elections.

The ordinance will be up for a final hearing at the assembly's May 1 meeting in Soldotna.

Murphy said she still thought the ordinance was in the borough's best interest during the meeting, but was on the fence considering public opinion she's heard.

About a dozen residents testified against the ordinance at the borough's April 3 meeting and Murphy said people later likened her to a "Chinese dictator or Genghis Khan," because of the idea.

"I may be voting against my own ordinance because I have heard such an outcry from the public against it," she said. "I think that some people don't understand the ordinance. They don't understand that in the last 11 years only 14 percent of the vacant seats ... had any opposition and so essentially 86 percent of the seats were in fact appointed.

"If you have only one person running, that person may as well have been appointed because there was no opposition to the seat."

She said she would not try to "shove it down the voters' throats," but did not support the idea of placing the ordinance's fate on the ballot in October.

"I would never support that because this is a decision that Alaska statutes gives to the assembly to make and frankly I do not like it when politicians decide that something is so controversial they don't want to make a decision and so they pass it off to the voters," she said. "We were elected to make certain decisions."

Assembly member Bill Smith said he liked the idea of the service area boards voting on the ordinance's proposed changes themselves, especially considering the boards and election process were created by a vote themselves.

"I think that (Linda) Murphy's idea is an excellent one and it should be the way that we go," he said. "But I really stumble over (the fact that) the people voted in a certain system and although we have the authority to change it, I think it is entirely appropriate to revisit that with the service areas with a vote."

Smith said the boards are already "self-appointed" if one were to consider how many seats are unopposed during an election.

"The process of having the service area board make a recommendation and then the mayor make a recommendation and then the assembly approve would actually improve the public process of appointing people to service area boards," he said.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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