Kenai to consider a control on public records

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009

An attempt by the city of Kenai to set rigid controls for release and inspection of public records will have to wait at least another month.

Coming in the wake of the controversial rezone of properties in a residential neighborhood north of the Kenai Spur Highway to Limited Commercial, a proposed ordinance to establish written regulations was postponed at the request of Councilman Bob Molloy on Wednesday.

During the six months the rezone was being debated, a number of residents in the impacted MAPS neighborhood opposed to the change, made scores of requests for public records to research their rights and help them prepare their remonstrance against the city plan.

On April 1, the Kenai City Council approved Ordinance 2393-2009, changing about 22 acres north of the highway from Rural Residential 1 and Conservation, allowing limited commercial development along the highway corridor across from Kenai Central High School.

Because the city does not have a specific provision in its municipal code governing the release of public records, the city administration proposed a five-page addition to the code regulating the release, and a six-page set of rules regulating public records inspections including a schedule of copy and other production fees.

Molloy raised a number of questions regarding the proposed public records regulations and made several suggestions for revising the proposed rules.

Under the paragraph identifying the regulation's intent, Molloy said, because the city would be charging for photocopying and other production services, the word "free" should be removed from the phrase "to provide full and free access of the public to municipal records and information...."

He also suggested ambiguity should be removed in a number of places in the document, especially where timing of the city's response to information requests is concerned. Molloy took issue with modifiers such as "rapid" and "timely" response to such requests.

Under the regulation describing production fees, which would include "the city employee's actual salary, plus benefit costs, for the time required during the month to search, review and copy the records," Molloy asked why people would be charged production costs if the city determines a document should not be disclosed or must be withheld based on privilege, exemption or other exception.

"The (Kenai Peninsula) Borough code allows the borough mayor to waive the fee," Molloy said. No such waiver is mentioned in the city code proposal.

Molloy also questioned why the city employees or officials would be protected from requests made not in good faith or considered to be for the purpose of harassment of the city, but the public is not protected if people feel their requests are denied without reason.

Following his dissection of the proposed ordinance, Molloy suggested the council schedule a work session to carefully go over the addition to the city code. City Attorney Cary Graves agreed.

Councilman Barry Eldridge, however, said he would like to see the city administration go over Molloy's suggestions and come back with a substitute ordinance.

On a motion by Molloy, action on the ordinance was postponed until May 20.

During the public presentation portion of Wednesday's council meeting, borough Mayor Dave Carey read a letter he received from a Kenai Peninsula soldier now serving on his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Cpl. Joshua Dover, stationed in Al Asad with the 1st Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion, thanked Carey and peninsula citizens for the care packages he is receiving while overseas. Dover was born in Soldotna and lived in Kenai 16 years.

"I'm not sure how y'all found out about me, but I can't thank you enough for the packages with letters, newspapers, salmon and more," Dover's letter states.

"Some days were harder than others, but no matter what the day, each time I received a box from you, it put a smile on my face," he wrote.

Carey said he wanted to remind people that the Red, White and Blue program he started as mayor of Soldotna "is still very active and we're always in need of names (of troops to send packages to)."

In other business, the council approved the transfer of an airport lease from ZYX Holdings Inc. to Arctic Barnabas Ministries Inc. for a lot on North Willow Street.

Arctic Barnabas, which already holds a lease on a larger airport lot on North Willow, plans to use the newly acquired lot for offices and for a hangar it would build there.

Testifying on behalf of Arctic Barnabas, Jonathan Peters said the not-for-profit organization has been unable to amass funds to complete a planned $1.5 million project on the larger lease lot, and plans to scale back to a half-million dollar project on the smaller lot.

Peters said a lease sale is pending on the larger lot, which Arctic Barnabas has improved, putting in water and utility lines as well as gravel in preparation for building.

Pending the payment of airport landing fees, which are in arrears, Arctic Barnabas' request for the lease transfer was approved with only Councilman Mike Boyle opposed. Councilmen Joe Moore and Rick Ross were absent.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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