Several residents employed a tactic they hoped would drive home their — and 1,600 others’ — point in regard to a repeal of the anadromous waters habitat protection expansion ordinance.
At Tuesday night’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting, six residents used their three minutes of allowed testimony time to read names from a list of 1,600 people who signed a petition to repeal Ordinance 2011-12.
Kasilof’s George Pierce promised he would mount the effort at the preceding meeting. The longtime outspoken opponent of the measure that was first introduced to the assembly a few months short of two years ago expressed continued dismay in the assembly actions.
“Here we are,” Pierce said. “We’ve got 1,600 signatures plus. How many signatures do you have? I just don’t get this. These are people that vote here, they live here and I haven’t seen hardly any people that are for this ordinance and we still have to fight this.”
Stacy Oliva, a member of the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force, told the assembly the reading was also to address “skepticism” about the petition.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the residents’ effort was “off point” when asked about it after the meeting. Navarre said he would remain undeterred until he saw what recommendations the task force brings forward.
“I think that the public process which was followed when it was originally passed and the process that is being followed now, we’ll see what comes of (it) ... and I trust the public process,” he said.
Assembly President Linda Murphy addressed the issue during closing comments.
“Anadromous streams issues have divided parts of our community and I’m sorry about that,” Murphy said. “I am looking forward to hearing what the task force has to say. I think that maybe we did overreach a bit with our last iteration of this ordinance.”
But, Murphy said the ordinance was “fixable.”
“We have to start somewhere,” she said. “I have always said that I’m going to vote in favor of the fish if it comes down to what’s best for that industry, because that industry is too important to our borough.
“Having said that, just because I don’t always vote the way some people of the public feel I should doesn’t mean I’m not listening and that I’m not taking what is said into consideration. It is just that sometimes we have different opinions about what is in the best interest of the borough.”
Talks between borough, union ongoing
During his mayor’s report, Navarre gave a brief update on the borough administration’s negotiations with the Kenai Borough Employees Association. Negotiations have been ongoing since mid-December 2012, but discussions are not open to the public.
“It is ongoing and when they are finished we will report back with something for you to consider,” Navarre said. “Beyond that I really can’t report much other than things seem to be progressing reasonably well. Obviously there are some issues that need to be resolved but they are working through them.”
Navarre said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the negotiations.
Borough to consider changing meeting time
An ordinance up for consideration at the borough’s Feb. 5 meeting seeks to change the time borough assembly meetings begin.
Ordinance 2013-01 would amend borough code to start the meetings at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than the current 7 p.m. start time. Some assembly members who travel several hours twice a month to attend borough meetings supported the idea when asked about it before the start of Tuesday’s meeting.
Seward assembly member Sue McClure — who travels the furthest of all assembly members — said she supports the measure. She said she thought the measure would be a more efficient use of borough staff and sees it as a savings.
“I love it,” she said. “... It is very rare that we get anyone coming here from Seward. The only concern I would have is if someone is working, they get off at 5 p.m. and if they can’t get here by 6 p.m.”
Assembly member Mako Haggerty who represents the South Peninsula, agreed, but felt 6 p.m. would still give residents enough time to make it to meetings from work.
“I like it for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “Basically, when assembly day rolls around, I can just cross that day off completely. So if it started up at 6 p.m., that means it ends just a little bit earlier and that’s a good thing.”
Murphy said she supported the idea as well. Usually, the assembly doesn’t get to “anything substantive with a public hearing” until an hour into the meeting any way, she said.
If there were items the assembly considered controversial and it were scheduled at a time when there weren’t many residents in attendance, the assembly always has the option of reordering the agenda to allow people more time to arrive, she said.
Or, Murphy said, residents who wanted to testify but couldn’t arrive at the start of the meeting could ask their assembly member to move the item back in advance.
“I think people will embrace it because members of the public don’t want to be here until 11:30 p.m. anymore than we do,” she said. “Anything that can get us out of here at a more reasonable hour I think is good for the public.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said the assembly met at 10 a.m. starting in 1967. In 1977 an ordinance moved that meeting time back to 7:30 p.m. until a 1999 ordinance changed it to 7 p.m. Blankenship said.
Public comment on the ordinance will be taken Feb. 5. If approved, the ordinance would take effect starting with the borough’s Feb. 19 meeting, Blankenship said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.