Dual service sustained: Borough Assembly won't bar members from holding city council seats

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

Local leaders are still allowed to serve on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and on a city council at the same time.

The borough assembly made that decision Tuesday night by voting down Assemblyman Paul Fischer's ordinance, which aimed to put an end to simultaneous duties. However, the decision will be reconsidered at the body's next meeting at Assemblyman Gary Superman's request.

Assembly Vice President Hal Smalley is the only borough assembly member who currently serves on two boards. He also sits on Kenai's city council. Smalley abstained from Tuesday night's four-four vote on Fischer's ordinance.

Some have felt that Fischer's proposed ordinance was an attack on Smalley. Smalley said he never saw it that way, nor did he see value in the potential restriction.

"Is it a personal attack on me? No." Smalley said Wednesday. "But it is such a small piece of legislation, why would we want to be developing laws that affect very few people?"

The proposed ordinance would not have been enforced on any sitting assembly members, meaning Smalley would not have needed to resign from either position if the ordinance had been enacted.

Fischer, of Kasilof, said the goal was to prevent potential conflict of interests that could result from someone serving on two bodies.

Smalley's dual service has forced him to abstain from three votes, including Tuesday night's vote, during his time on the borough assembly, according to borough records. One resolution in 2009 proposed allowing the mayor to negotiate the manufacture and removal of ore from borough rock quarries with the city of Kenai. Smalley also abstained from a 2010 vote on a resolution that allocated a $2 million bond value cap to Kenai.

Smalley said the whole thing is essentially a non-issue.

"It's like slaying dragons when there aren't any," Smalley said. "The voters clearly had a choice and clearly knew that I was sitting on the Kenai City Council when they elected me."

The issue of dual loyalty came to the forefront this fall when the city of Kenai supported a change in state statute that proposed broadened smoking regulations in workplaces. The borough assembly opposed the change of state statute. When the issue came to the Alaska Municipal League, Smalley was theoretically pulled in two directions. "Who's he obligated to go down and lobby for?" Fischer said.

Smalley did not have to cast a vote on the matter during Alaska Municipal League discussions.

In regard to Fischer's ordinance, Smalley said he was most bothered that Fischer never gave him a heads up before going public with the proposal.

"Generally, as a matter of courtesy, I would go to that individual and say 'Hey, I am going to introduce this,' and that never happened," Smalley said. "Perhaps there could have been discussion that could have saved a great waste of time."

Fischer said he tried to discuss the matter with Smalley beforehand.

"I tried to call him several times and his phone was always busy," Fischer said Wednesday. "I'll bet you I placed at least 10 calls."

Current Assembly President Pete Sprague served simultaneously on Soldotna's city council and on the borough assembly in the late 1990s before he resigned his Soldotna post in January of 1999.

Sprague said he found serving on two boards to be "untenable" due to the fact that a conflict of interest precluded him from important votes.

Sprague voted against Fischer's ordinance, however, saying his resignation was a choice and should not be a mandate.

Assemblyman Mako Haggerty, of the south peninsula, echoed Sprague's opinion.

"I feel that the people have the right to pick who represents them in whatever area they live in," Haggerty said. "I understand why this ordinance was here in front of us, but I don't think it's up to this body to tell the voters of a certain district who they can and can't elect."

Assemblyman Charlie Pierce, of Sterling, voted for the ordinance.

"If you are serving on a city council, you could be in a position where you are carrying one voice over here and one voice over there," Pierce said.

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

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