Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Linda Murphy and the rest of the assembly struck down an ordinance Tuesday that would have meant major changes in service area boards and how residents are selected to serve on them.
Murphy, the ordinance’s sponsor, started discussions of Ordinance 2012-07 at the assembly’s regular Tuesday meeting by saying she would vote against it despite feeling it was still in the borough’s best interest. She reasoned the assembly needed “to put this baby to rest.”
Later, after the assembly agreed by voting the idea down 9-0, Murphy added she was glad the issue was over because she was “getting sick of it,” and hoped residents would stop emailing her in protest of the idea.
The failed ordinance would have established a process to fill all service area board seats by appointment instead of by election.
Currently, members of the borough’s 14 service area boards 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 a lack of 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.
The ordinance would have had residents fill out an application to serve on their board of interest, which would have gone to the mayor and service area board for consideration. The mayor would consider recommendations from the service area board before making an appointment, which would ultimately go to the assembly for confirmation.
The borough clerk’s office said the idea would save thousands of dollars if it had been passed. The ordinance stated appointed boards may increase public interest in board service and would significantly reduce time and expense involved in borough elections.
“I don’t think I ever said the main reason for bringing this forward was to save money, I said that was a happy coincidence if this ordinance did pass,” Murphy said. “The main reason for bringing this forward was efficiency … When only 14 percent of service area seats in the last 11 years had any opposition, that meant that 86 percent were self-appointed because one person ran and nobody ran against them.”
Assembly member Ray Tauriainen said he was in favor of the ordinance when it was first brought up.
“But the more I’ve thought about it, I don’t think that we are going to gain very much by bringing this to the voters,” he said. “My feeling is that most voters are going to reject it.”
Sue McClure, assembly member representing Seward, said she didn’t “see the need to further this anymore.”
Assembly member Brent Johnson introduced a substitute to the ordinance that would have let voters in each service area vote on whether they wanted their boards to be appointed or not. The substitution was co-sponsored with assembly president Gary Knopp.
“Certainly there can be no harm in asking the voters, who have just vocally said they like to vote on things, to vote on whether they are willing to have an appointed service area board in their service area,” Johnson said.
The substitute failed 3-9, with Johnson, Knopp and Bill Smith voting in favor of it.
Assembly member Hal Smalley said he didn’t support sending the ordinance to the voters because it would be “shirking responsibility.”
“Sometimes when we bring things forward we find out they are not as popular as at least what we thought they might be,” Smalley said. “And, I think it may have been a good idea, but I think we have heard loudly and clearly that most folks that have testified on this don’t support it and they like the way the system is.”
Said Knopp, “I take a little offense to Mr. Smalley saying we’re shirking responsibility — I don’t think this body ever shirks responsibility by passing decisions on to the voters. I really truly believe it is a voter decision.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.