Kenai considers town hall meeting

Posted: Monday, March 22, 2010

After several weeks of discussion and public testimony on energy policies last fall, the Kenai City Council is planning to sponsor a $15,000 town hall meeting to brainstorm ideas on building a sustainable community.

The council discussed the possible topics and format of such a community dialogue at its meeting March 17. Tentative plans have the meeting scheduled for this May or June. The $15,000 price tag would include the cost of the meeting to be facilitated by a third-party agency and training for city staff.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said the idea of the town hall meeting is to continue the public discussion that was spurred by Kenai's possible support of the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact last year.

The resolution, brought forward by council member Bob Molloy, recognizes the problem of ocean acidification and its potential impact on local fisheries, supports development of renewable energy sources for policymakers and encourages Kenai to continue its own energy-saving initiatives.

The resolution also recognizes the benefits of networking with other coastal communities on climate change issues and supports using any proceeds from federal climate change legislation to fund initiatives in Alaska.

Last December, the council decided to tack on its support of the "State of Alaska energy policy as proposed by the Tri-Borough Commission" along with the climate change compact.

In January the council decided to remove the portion of the compact resolution that called for Kenai to add its name as a signatory and postponed its passage until May 19.

Those who oppose the compact are concerned it is an indirect approval of cap and trade legislation, which they say could negatively impact the heavy-industry economy. Compact supporters expressed the need to be on the forefront of addressing global climate change. These differences in opinion are what spurred the lengthy discussions and why some council members called for the town hall meeting.

Council member Joe Moore seemed skeptical about the need for continued discussion on climate change.

"I don't object to town hall meeting being held but what's it going to cover?" he said, adding that there were several council meetings held for the resolution that did not get anywhere.

He said he was OK about spending $7,500 on Kenai employee training but he's not convinced the other half slated for the town hall meeting will directly benefit the local taxpayers.

If the city is "investing this type of money to have a forum there should be priority given to the citizens of Kenai," said council member Barry Eldridge.

However, it might be hard to solely limit the proposed meeting to City of Kenai residents.

Krista Stearns, Kenai city attorney, said they might be able to structure the meeting in such a way to prioritize Kenai citizens' comments, but a town hall meeting is to generate ideas. No formal action is taken at the meeting, she said, so council members can weigh the public comments afterward.

Moore said the city should go back to "square one" and not promote the town hall meeting as a Kenai event.

Other council members want to include all Peninsula residents' comments.

"Not all the best ideas are within our city limits," said council member Mike Boyle.

The dates for the town hall meeting that have been presented are May 8, June 5, and June 19.

In other action the council:

* Approved several ordinances accepting grants for public safety items like a 911-simulator phone, bulletproof vests, new police department equipment and police training on Internet crimes against children;

* Approved an ordinance of $15,000 outside of budget for the police department to purchase an all-terrain vehicle to patrol the beach areas of Kenai during the annual dipnet fishery;

* Approved an ordinance transferring funds in preparation for the City of Kenai to apply to the 2011 All-America City Award, a total cost of $21,500;

* Approved a resolution recognizing 2010 as the 50th anniversary of the City of Kenai's incorporation, with the intent of planning celebration events;

* Approved a resolution granting the Kenai Watershed Forum $5,000 in order to perform baseline water quality sampling of the Kenai River.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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