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Pact draws heat: Another hearing set for climate change agreement

Posted: Friday, January 08, 2010

Peninsula Clarion

One member of the public may have said it best in describing Wednesday night's Kenai City Council meeting.

"This has been more entertaining than any reality TV show I've ever seen," Dennis Gifford said.

In a filled-to-capacity city council chamber and with a relatively sparse agenda, it was obvious nearly everyone from the public came to the meeting to speak or listen to discussion regarding the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact.

At its Dec. 16 meeting, the council had enough votes to pass an amended resolution that would have allowed Kenai to become a signatory, but the body decided to reconsider that decision and revisit the issue Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to rescind its signature from the compact, which calls for immediate action against human-induced global climate change.

At Wednesday's city council meeting, one gentleman got up to address Kenai's council members on the climate change issue. But councilman Mike Boyle stopped him.

The reason? As of Wednesday night, the city council had already held two public hearings on the climate change compact issue and the opportunity for public comment was supposed to be closed.

Boyle said that because the council had not sent out a notice for a Jan. 6 public hearing, it would be inappropriate to allow for an impromptu public hearing to take place during the unscheduled public comment period.

"We need to play fair for those who did not come," Boyle said. "I'd move to make a motion for no discussion on this topic at this meeting."

The council held a vote on Boyle's proposal.

"We're voting on whether to allow the public to speak?" asked council member Joe Moore, who was participating in the meeting via speakerphone.

Mayor Pat Porter explained her policy has always been to allow unscheduled public comments for items appearing on the agenda.

"Liar," one woman in the audience muttered in a stage whisper.

"You do not call her a liar," another woman said sharply, pointing her finger at the first woman. The two stood up, faced each other and stormed out of the room. The council did not acknowledge the dispute.

In a 4-3 vote, the council decided not to allow public testimony regarding the climate change compact during the unscheduled comment period. Moore, Porter and council member Barry Eldridge voted against the motion.

That didn't sit well with the crowd.

After the vote, Porter called for a five-minute recess as some members of the public stormed out of the building in disgust. Moore left the call and did not participate in the rest of the meeting.

Councilman Hal Smalley reminded the public that anyone could speak to any topic at the end of the council meeting.

"There is always scheduled public comment at the end of the meeting," City Attorney Krista Stearns said. "There is an opportunity for public discussion and the suggestion is that's never been limited by topic."

Some members of the public left but most opted to stay. During the five-minute recess, people gathered in the halls to listen to council member Bob Molloy, who introduced the resolution calling for Kenai to sign the climate compact, explain what was happening. The spur-of-the-moment explanation resembled a mini-press conference, with members of the crowd doing the questioning.

Molloy said the council would not be able to officially consider public testimony made during the unscheduled comment period Wednesday because the public comment period had already been closed. He said his intent was not to stifle the public, but rather to have their voices be heard through proper protocol.

After the five-minute breather, the council moved to once again hear public testimony on the climate pact resolution at its Jan. 20 meeting. In effect, the resolution will be treated as if the body had never voted on it or moved to reconsider it.

"This is upholding the rules that we have so we have an orderly way of doing business," Molloy said when the meeting reconvened. "This is ensuring that the body as a whole is proceeding the way that we normally proceed."

During public discussion Wednesday, when the public was eventually allowed to speak to the climate agreement, Molloy motioned to have all comments heard be added to the record that accompanies the resolution. The motion passed unanimously.

The council continued with its scheduled agenda, which included announcing Wal-Mart's plans to open in Kenai on March 31, and allowed the public to speak to the climate change compact at the end of the meeting.

"I don't want the general public to think that I did anything wrong at the beginning of the meeting, because I did not," Porter said, explaining how she, as mayor, presided over Wednesday's meeting. "What I did was not illegal. I just want you all to know that nothing that I did was incorrect."

People representing all viewpoints on the climate change compact issue finally spoke their piece. At the end of the meeting, Kate Veh, who described herself as a "greenie," and Mike Mendenhall, who quoted from the Wall Street Journal saying the CO2 emission reduction goals are unrealistic, complimented each other on their presentations.

"The dialogue that we had tonight and the dialogue that we had along the way will get us moving somewhere," Smalley said. Smalley, who is also the vice president of the borough assembly, had voted Tuesday for the borough to remove its signature from the climate change compact. "(The dialogue) brings us off of these extremes and brings us into this middle groundwork to salvage something meaningful for all of us."

The conversation will continue in a couple of weeks.

"I can assure that I and plenty others will be back at the Jan. 20 meeting to have more conversation about this," Gifford said after his reality TV comment.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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