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Public comment changed: Kenai City Council amends testimony rules

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010

Kenai City Council member Joe Moore said he doubted the public would even read the council's resolution changing administrative policies and procedures about receiving public comments, but the council debated the semantics anyway.

At its Wednesday night meeting, the Kenai City Council approved a substitute resolution cleaning up language and spelling out scheduled and unscheduled public comment times at meetings.

After some contentious council meetings earlier this year, the clarifications of these policies are a welcome change for Mayor Pat Porter, who brought the resolution forward.

Porter said she felt there were some differences of opinion on the council that restricted public testimony at a January meeting regarding Kenai's possible support of the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact.

Council member Bob Molloy brought forward the climate change compact resolution last fall that spurred public testimony at several meetings. The resolution encourages environmental practices as well as networking with other coastal communities on climate change issues. Those in opposition to the compact are concerned it is an indirect approval of cap and trade legislation, which they say could negatively impact the Kenai's industrial economy. The Kenai City Council has yet to approve or deny this resolution, as it was postponed to its July 7 meeting.

"The meetings could have gone more smoothly," said Krista Stearns, Kenai's city attorney, explaining the reasons for the resolution's amendments.

Stearns said the resolution now includes an orderly way to take public comments.

The resolution accounts for "unscheduled public comments" of three minutes regarding anything that is not on the council's regular or consent agenda. The established "scheduled public comment" remains the same, consisting of 10 minutes for each speaker who has informed the council of his or her wish to speak at least eight days before the meeting.

Moore did not want to get too carried away with changes to the resolution.

"I'm not in opposition to the public being able to speak on anything on the agenda," he said, but, "I fear we're going to open up every single item on the agenda for public hearing, which is not appropriate."

Council members debated over certain grammatical meanings and ultimately decided to clean up a phrase.

"If we have the city attorney and several of us up here that don't understand it, the general public is not going to," Porter said.

Council member Molloy also added a clause to the resolution encouraging council members to include explanatory memorandums with their proposed ordinances and resolutions.

"Since I've been on council I really appreciate explanatory memoranda," he said. "It's very valuable to the public to have short memoranda or explanations."

Last month council had a work session to go over the resolution and collaborate on the best way to define these changes.

The new resolution further outlines other times for public input during council meetings. People may testify up to three minutes when the council calls for comments on scheduled agenda items and for the consent agenda. Citizens may also speak for five minutes each in the discussion area provided near the end of each meeting.

Bob Peters, who lives in Old Town Kenai, took advantage of this time at Wednesday's meeting to express his concern on the placement of public comments before council discusses or takes action on an item.

"I have sometimes felt handicapped because I have had to speak right up front," he said. He said citizens might have comments that could change a council vote.

Because Peters' comments came at the end of the meeting, council passed the administrative resolution without taking them into account.

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



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