Without Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and two other council members present, the Kenai City Council again postponed an ordinance regarding telephonic participation for Kenai Planning and Zoning commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting.
Porter and council members Tim Navarre and Mike Boyle were absent from the meeting while in Juneau attending a legislative hearing, although Porter and Navarre participated telephonically. Vice Mayor Ryan Marquis directed the meeting.
Porter motioned the ordinance be postponed to the March 5 council meeting after council member Robert Molloy suggested two amendments. Porter said she wants to see the ordinance passed and show support to the commission.
“Instead of further delay the council needs to vote because we have been on this issue for three months,” she said. “Let’s give (the commission) the support they need. If it doesn’t work, we can fix it.”
Kenai City Council and commission members have discussed the ordinance since it was introduced and failed at the Jan. 8 commission meeting. The commission made amendments following suggestions from council and unanimously passed the resolution at its Feb. 12 meeting.
Jeff Twait, Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission Chair said the purpose of the ordinance is to allow the commissioners the option to participate over the phone on a limited basis, since the commission meets twice a month, more than any other committee except the city council.
Twait said a member of the commission, who has since resigned, introduced the resolution. Being able to ease the burden of service but still being able to participate and not disrupt the process as the ordinance reads, was an important issue to him, he said. The fact that this has dragged on for so long is part of the reason he decided to step down, he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Molloy said he had a couple amendments in mind to improve the ordinance. Instead of a maximum of four meetings via teleconference in a calendar year, he suggested it be reduced to two or three. He also asked that the starting month be changed to January, not November.
While the council was all in favor of those changes, Molloy said he was not supportive of the ordinance because the commission used the same template for the city council on telephonic participation and he does not see the two bodies the same.
“It is like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “Council meets 35 times a year while planning and zoning meets 17 times.”
Molloy said commissioners who participate telephonically should not be able to vote when it comes down to quasi-judicial functions and decisions on conditional use permits. He said he would like to find out if any other state municipality planning and zoning commissions use telephonic participation.
Twait said he agrees if the commission discusses conditional use permits and someone is participating over the phone, they should not vote as long as a quorum is present and lowering the number of times someone can teleconference is not a big issue. But having the option to participate telephonically is a good tool to have in the event commissioners are unavailable.
“Tonight is a perfect example. Three people were not here but two were able to participate quite well,” he said. “We thought we came up with a good compromise.”
Henry Knackstedt, who was reappointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission at Wednesday’s council meeting, said if he were to get stuck in Anchorage and could not fly in for a meeting, having the option to phone in makes sense.
“Either I’m going to be here or not but I’m always prepared,” he said. “Making small modifications to this document is frankly academic.”
Twait said it would not be long before council members are able to videoconference in and the technology is available to email agenda documents to have the needed information be able to contribute.
While he said the ordinance is not a high priority, he would like to see it resolved at the next council meeting.
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.