Communications rule tabled

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2003

The more they discussed it, the more complicated things became.

In the end, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly tabled a resolution that aimed to clarify how and when members of various borough boards and commissions could communicate with nonborough agencies and officials.

Assembly member Betty Glick of Kenai sponsored Resolution 2003-017 in an effort to assure that the borough would speak with one voice in any communications with officials and agencies beyond the borough.

Confusion could result, she said, if members of boards and commissions write to outside officials expressing viewpoints that could be interpreted as that of the borough, when the assembly, the borough's policymaking body, had not yet taken a position.

It was a letter from a member of the borough Road Service Area urging Rep. Don Young to include a particular road project among the borough's congressional priorities that prompted Glick's resolution. At the time the letter was written, the assembly was working on, but had not yet completed its own list of priorities. As it turned out, the road in question, Keystone Drive in Soldotna, was included in the assembly's priority list.

Set for introduction Feb. 4, the resolution was pulled so borough Attorney Colette Thompson could refine its language to avoid conflict with the First Amendment rights of board and commission members. New language amending the original resolution was adopted Tuesday night, but it was clear from discussion that many members had strong reservations about curtailing the ability of board and commission members to express their views.

"I'm not trying to punish anybody," Glick said in defense of her resolution. "I'm not trying to bridle anybody or prevent them from speaking out."

The refined language, she said, stated that nothing in the policy would preclude an individual from stating in correspondence that he or she was a member of a board or commission, but it would preclude using their title in the heading of signature line of such correspondence.

Assembly member Ron Long of Seward said he could see little difference.

Assembly member Gary Superman of Nikiski attempted to amend the measure by removing any reference to headers and signature lines, but that failed.

Questions arose as to which boards and commissions the resolution would apply. That prompted another amendment indicating it would not apply to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, whose relationship with the assembly is defined by other statutes.

By that time, assembly members were confronting a mishmash of convoluted language that was anything but clear. Assembly member Grace Merkes of Sterling moved to table the measure indefinitely. The assembly agreed.

Glick said afterward that had Merkes not beat her to the punch, she was prepared to call for tabling herself. She said she had essentially gotten what she wanted in the first place, an airing of the problems that could be created if communications expressing the individual feelings of members of boards and commissions are couched in terms that could be misinterpreted as borough policy.

The assembly said such occasions, should they arise, could be handled administratively with a phone call.

The resolution will remain on the borough's pending agenda until it is brought back to the table by a sitting member or until the next election, at which point all tabled matters disappear, said Borough Clerk Linda Murphy.

The assembly also adopted Ordinance 2002-02 which limits late-filed real property exemption requests for senior citizens, disabled veterans or their surviving spouses to three years. Previously, such late-filings would seek exemptions for any number of tax years back, creating difficulties in research for the borough. Now, those seeking retroactive exemptions only can seek them for three previous years. The assembly also adopted Resolution 2002-022, which listed several names of late-filers accepted by the borough.

In other business, the assembly:

Adopted Resolution 2003-020 establishing its federal priorities for legislative issues and capital projects for the year 2003.

Adopted Resolution 2003-024 supporting passage of House Bill 57 and Senate Bill 50 amending the way royalty received by the state on gas production related to the manufacture of value-added goods was determined. The legislative measures are seen as a way to give gas users a better and earlier picture of their true costs than under the current method of royalty determination. Critics say, however, that the new method could end up costing the state millions in royalty dollars in the long run.

Introduced Ordinance 2002-19-33 approving an agreement with the Alaska Municipal League Joint Insurance Association that will require the borough to make an additional payment for insurance for fiscal year 2003. The negotiated agreement was necessitated by the rapidly rising costs of property and liability insurance following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. A sum of $250,000 is to be appropriated under language in the current ordinance, but Finance Director Jeff Sinz said subsequent calculations are likely to reduce the borough's costs to around $215,000.

The ordinance will be amended at the March 11 meeting when a public hearing is scheduled. In connection with that issue, the assembly approved Resolution 2003-019 authorizing the borough to seek proposals from insurance brokers-of-record, independent insurance brokers who can research the insurance market for the best rates. Once hired, that broker would find the best insurance deal for the borough for fiscal year 2004. His contract likely would be continued on a yearly basis, the assembly said.

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