Officials working to remove obsolete, unenforceable laws from books

Kenai city code slated for revision

Posted: Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Kenai's city manager is on a mission. He wants to streamline the city code so the city does not get stuck with enforcing state laws in the wake of legislative budget cutting.

Since late last year, Rick Ross has put before the city council a steady stream of various code deletions and revisions. Laws stricken from the books range from health inspections to lewd and lascivious acts in public.

"It's all part of a process over the next year to look at and eliminate ordinances that are no longer needed," Ross said at the Jan. 19 city council meeting.

One of the regulations he's offered up for deletion is the requirement that he hold staff meetings once a week with his department heads.

"In my history with the city, no city manager has ever had a weekly meeting," Ross said. "It may have been coded in the past, but we meet twice a month."

Kenai Mayor John Williams described the effort of streamlining city codes as a war with the state of Alaska.

"If they thought we'd do it, the Legislature will pass it on down, and who would get to pay for it? Well, we're sitting right here," he said. "This war will continue for some time."

Ross said the Kenai City Code called for a health inspector to be on staff and for that person to inspect restaurants.

"In the last 30 years we have had no health department or inspector," Ross said.

"What this does is put everybody on notice that we are not in the health inspecting business," Williams said. "We have nothing to do with inspecting restaurants."

Various public sex acts also were removed from the city codes, but Ross and city attorney Carey Graves assured the council that they still are illegal under state law.

A number of other laws were removed from the city code at the April 24 meeting. They include ones forbidding fortune-telling, mind-reading and phrenology, as well as selling cigarettes or tobacco to children. Also off the city books are gambling, discharge of firearms, sale of switchblade knives, unlawful assembly, trespassing, impersonating an officer or employee of the city, resisting arrest and reporting false fire alarms.

Many of these repealed laws are still illegal under state law, and city police still can charge violators under them.

A number of other city laws were kept but changed from misdemeanors to violations.

"Many of them are minor offenses, so there is no jail time," Graves said.

Fines range up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

He said that move also saves the city money because the city has to pay for any public defender or jury costs associated with prosecuting misdemeanors under city code. As violations, offenders now are subject to fines rather than being brought to trial.

Graves said the code cleaning project will last through the fall, as all 23 chapters of the city code are up for review. At tonight's council meeting, portions of Title 14 having to do with land use and zoning will be reviewed. The sign code from Title 14 will be reviewed at a later date.

At the same April 24 meeting however, the council added negligent driving to the code books. The city administration wanted negligent driving to be a city offense because the state district attorney's office does not provide a prosecutor for such cases. Negligent driving is a less serious offense than reckless driving, which the state does prosecute.

Williams found it ironic that the city would add negligent driving to its books but remove other charges.

"So if someone is charged with negligent driving, the city of Kenai can prosecute, but if someone is charged with fortune-telling or phrenology, the state will prosecute?" Williams asked.

"The state doesn't prosecute fortune-telling," Graves replied. "They're not covered by state law and shouldn't be covered under any law."

"If they did prosecute fortune-telling," council member Jim Bookey said to the mayor, "you'd have been done long ago."

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