Borough OKs dual office holding

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2008

If sitting assembly members can actually manage to get themselves elected to a local city council while still holding their borough offices, more power to 'em, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly said Tuesday.

Assembly members voted 3-6 in turning back Ordinance 2007-36, proposed by Diamond Ridge Assemblywoman Milli Martin, that would have barred such dual office holding.

Martin had argued that city and borough interests were "too diverse" for one person to represent both municipal governments and their constituencies adequately and without conflict. Amending the code would prevent such conflicts from arising, she said.

No provision in borough code currently bars assembly members from holding city council seats. A ban does exist, however, preventing active assembly members from simultaneously holding seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, or elected positions with the state or federal government, or on any other borough board or commission, Martin noted in a memo to the assembly.

Assemblywoman Margaret Gilman disagreed, saying it should be up to the candidate and the voters to decide whether dual office holding was a good idea or not.

She went on to note that there was a good reason why a ban exists against serving on the assembly and school board simultaneously that did not apply to a city council position.

"The reason for that is that the assembly does have financial decision-making with regard to the school district in terms of what the local funding will be for school district," she said, adding that no such relationship exists between the assembly and city councils.

Of course, seeking dual offices might be reason to question a candidate's state of mind.

"Although I think a person would be insane to serve on both the assembly and a city council, if they're willing to do it, go right ahead," Gilman quipped.

That drew a quick response from Assemblyman Pete Sprague and set the audience laughing.

"To preface my remarks," he said, "Ms. Gilman did say that somebody would have to be insane to do both. The last person on the assembly to do both was me."

Sprague was still a Soldotna City Councilman when elected to the assembly in the fall of 1998. He continued to serve on the council until January 1999.

Sprague said he had reservations about the ordinance at first, but ultimately decided putting a prohibition in place was not a bad idea, acknowledging from personal experience that it was difficult to serve on both bodies at the same time. There were times, he said, when conflicts of interest required him to abstain from voting on one body or the other.

Assemblyman Paul Fischer of Kasilof took the other side.

"I don't think the public is stupid," he said. "If the public votes to have somebody on the city council and they also vote to have him on the assembly, I see nothing wrong with that," adding that he did not wish to limit voter choice.

Borough Mayor John Williams noted that in the early days of the borough before assembly seats were districted in the early 1970s, city council members were regularly appointed to sit on the assembly "because it was deemed that a lot of the work the assembly involved itself in would necessarily involve the future of the cities as well."

The ordinance ultimately garnered only three "yes" votes, cast by Martin, Sprague and Gary Superman of Nikiski.

The assembly also turned down Ordinance 2007-37, a measure that would have prohibited assembly members from attending meetings by teleconference.

While teleconference calls commonly present audio difficulties, most on the assembly said that was a problem worth dealing with if it ensured participation by absent members who may have been prevented from attending in person by weather or unexpected family issues. The vote was 2-7.

In other business, the assembly:

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-29 appropriating $50,000 to the city of Soldotna for a new city comprehensive plan.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-30 appropriating $50,000 to the city of Homer to update its comprehensive plan.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-31, appropriating $20,000 from the Alaska Division of Forestry for reimbursing cost incurred by the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area assisting on state fires.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-32, appropriating $200,000 from the state of Alaska for community purposes.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-33, accepting $523,650 from the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. for teacher housing in Nanwalek, and appropriating $200,000 in matching funds to the project.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-19-34, appropriating a $100,000 state grant to provide fishing opportunities for disabled veterans.

* Enacted Ordinance 2007-38, amending the valuation and flat tax appeal procedure.

* Unanimously enacted Ordinance 2007-40, sponsored by Williams, which approved a one-year extension on a lease option for borough land at Ladd Landing held by Texas-based investors Richard D. Bass, William Herbert Hunt, and William Herbert Hunt Trust Estate.

* Postponed action on Ordinance 2007-41, which would authorize the mayor to execute a new sublease and operating agreement with South Peninsula Hospital Inc., until the Jan. 22 meeting.

* Introduced Ordinance 2008-01, which would amend borough code and provide for impounding and disposing of vicious dogs in areas outside the cities. Public hearings are scheduled for Feb. 5 and 19.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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