A proposed resolution aimed at redefining Kenai Peninsula Borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander’s role as facilitator of the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force failed to gain traction at the group’s Monday meeting.
Task force members Fred Braun and Stacy Oliva submitted the resolution to prohibit Ostrander from participating in “any discussion except when necessary to facilitate the meeting” and strip him of his power to vote on recommendations the task force considers. The resolution also proposed that in order to make Ostrander’s position “unbiased,” he “shall not advocate his or the administration’s position at any time during the meeting, including the closing comment period or in his comments made to the media.”
Braun made a motion to add the resolution to the task force’s agenda, but when the idea was met with resistance from other members, Braun withdrew it.
“I would really hope that the comments from the facilitator would remain your own,” Braun said at the group’s Monday meeting. “I would not like to see the facilitator speak for this task force. I think that we should not be biased, or at least the facilitator should not be biased, in any sort of a comment. It comes across to the public as a preconceived outcome of this task force.”
Ostrander, who will remain in his current capacity and retain a vote on the task force, has for several months steered the group of nine members through a process meant to make specific recommendations and changes to Ordinance 2011-12 before it is implemented.
“I am allowed to have an opinion,” Ostrander said at the meeting. “The administration is allowed to have a role and an opinion on this task force and I will probably temper that at times because I want to make sure we are going forward. But, if I feel it is important to make a point, I will.”
In a press release generated about the issue before the meeting, Braun referenced two specific instances when Ostrander spoke about the task force — that there would not likely be enough votes from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to repeal Ordinance 2011-12, and that misinformation about the ordinance should be corrected by the task force.
Ostrander’s conduct as facilitator was the second issue Braun has taken up about how the task force operates. The first issue he raised was about the creation of the task force by Navarre instead of, as he said he would have preferred, the assembly. Braun said Monday the “waters have been muddied” because Ostrander’s role was not clearly defined in an ordinance passed by the assembly to create and define the Task Force.
At the meeting, task force member Ken Tarbox said he thought the resolution about Ostrander’s role was an “incredible waste of time.”
“I think we need to get to the work of this task force and stop wasting time on these peripheral issues,” he said.
David Wartinbee, another task force member, shared a similar sentiment.
“Let’s get on with the job that we were asked to do instead of worrying about whether it was set up by the borough or worrying about whether someone is the facilitator, the chairman or whatever it is,” he said. “Let’s get to the business that we have in front of us and let’s try to find some resolution for this ordinance so we can implement it, or change it or make it so it works for everybody.”
Before the resolution was considered, Navarre told the group he had a hard time seeing where there was any bias in the group as a result of how Ostrander conducted the meetings. He said it is not the “prerogative of the task force to define the role of task force members,” before offering to hire an outside facilitator to run the meetings while Ostrander remained a member if the group felt there would be a continued problem.
“There are (task force) members who are in favor of a much broader repeal without having listened to any of the real information,” Navarre said. “Having an administrative task force without an administrative representative, it just really makes little sense and it would, I think, undermine our ability to support the recommendations of the task force.”
Navarre also took issue with the notion that Ostrander was “advancing the administration’s position” on the anadromous stream habitat protection ordinance considering he created it to gather information for, and make recommendations to he and the assembly.
“I can tell you without any reservation there is no administration position at this time,” he said. “We’re trying to figure it out. I said that at the first task force meeting that we wanted help. That’s why we set up the task force, tried to get diverse opinions and perspectives on the task force as well as some experienced and knowledgeable folks on habitat. We really wanted help figuring it out.”
The task force will over the next several months mull recommendations from members on specific changes to the ordinance. Among the issues considered at the Monday meeting were renaming the code to reflect all water types under its jurisdiction, focusing on how streams are added to or subtracted from the state document borough code follows, the amount of influence the borough has on such additions or subtractions and what uses could be allowed near lakes with a conditional use permit.
Ostrander said previously he expects more resolutions to be generated from the task force.
Once considered, recommendations approved through a vote of the task force will then go back for a review by the borough’s legal department and River Center staff for additional comments. Recommendations will then come back to the task force for a final action and then go out for public consideration at several town hall meetings.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.