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Service area board members should remain elected

Posted: April 8, 2012 - 8:00am

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly this week began discussing an ordinance that would make members of the borough’s service area boards appointed, rather than elected. While the intention behind the ordinance is good, we think the proposed change is the wrong approach.

Currently, members of most of the borough’s 14 service area boards, save for the road service area board, are elected during the October municipal election. We are one of the few boroughs in the state to fill service area boards in that manner. However, candidates for board seats often run unopposed, and there are times that an open seat fails to draw any candidates at all.

In those cases, or when a seat opens due to a mid-term resignation, applications to fill the seat are collected by the borough clerk and sent to the particular service area board. The seat is filled by a vote of the board.

Under the proposed ordinance, applications to fill service area board seats would be filed with the clerk and forwarded to the service area board and mayor. Under advisement from the service area board, the mayor would appoint board members, who would then be confirmed by the assembly.

While the current process isn’t always perfect, it works well, and we don’t want to see it scrapped for something that would have the borough mayor and assembly tasked with micromanaging our service area boards.

Under borough statute, service area boards serve in an advisory capacity to the mayor and assembly. In some cases, the assembly may delegate some authority to a board. The boards make recommendations about management of a service area, which means they let the assembly and administration know how people in their service area think the property taxes there should be collected and spent. After all, service areas are established to collect a tax to pay for a government service.

It seems to us that a system in which the people being taxed get to vote for the people who make recommendations about those taxes is a good one. Yes, it might make a little bit more paperwork for the borough clerk and cost the borough a little bit more, but a board consisting of members elected from their service area is more likely to be representative of public sentiment that an appointed one. It’s grassroots democracy in action. Turning the appointment of service area board members over to the borough mayor and assembly might streamline the process of filling seats, but it would remove one of the paths through which residents can participate in their government — not just for those who run for seats, but also for the people who take the opportunity to vote for them.

In short: If the role of a service area board is to provide the borough administration and assembly with good recommendations based on the interests of service area residents, then the current system in which service area residents elect board members to represent them remains the best process for filling board seats.

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