Who should call the shots?

Initiative seeking change in the way borough managed

Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2004

An effort has been launched to change the way the Kenai Peninsula Borough is managed.

North Kenai resident Mike McBride and Soldotna resident Fred Sturman, longtime observers and occasional critics of borough affairs, filed two draft initiatives with the borough clerk's office Monday afternoon.

Both would replace the elected-mayor style of government management. One would have the borough assembly hire a manager; the other would require the assembly to call for bids from management firms and select the lowest bidder. Either way, the manager would answer directly to the assembly.

In a press release Monday, the sponsors said their initiatives would not eliminate the elected mayor position, but they would relegate it to a ceremonial role. A professional manager would replace the mayor as chief executive of the borough, the sponsors said.

"There is no doubt in my mind that a professional manager with appropriate education and municipal management experience can manage the borough better than the current mayoral plan," McBride said. "The borough manager would be required to work in a cooperative and professional manner at all times with the borough assembly, which has not always been the case with elected mayors."

Sturman said he believes voters should have the opportunity to express their opinions on the performance of the manager on a periodic basis. The initiatives propose a nonbinding advisory vote be held at each regular municipal election.

"Results of this nonbinding vote would then be considered by the assembly," Sturman said.

According to the press release, Matanuska-Susitna Borough voters changed from a chair to a manager plan in 1971. The city of Soldotna did likewise in 1984, moving to a manager style of government.

The initiatives must be reviewed by the borough attorney's office. The borough has until May 24 to certify or reject the initiatives. Once certified, 1,332 registered borough voters must sign a petition to place the question on the October municipal election ballot.

The proposed initiative requiring the hiring of a manager (Initiative 2004-04) is simpler in detail than the initiative proposing a bidding process and the selection of a management firm (Initiative 2004-05).

For instance, a manager hired directly by the borough assembly (under 04) would be paid by the borough and get a retirement and health package of benefits. A contracting management firm, however, would provide their own benefit package (under 05) to whoever held the job and would not be eligible for benefits afforded by regular borough employees.

A borough management contract with the lowest qualified bidder would be approved by a majority of the entire assembly. An initial contract term of three years is proposed in the text of Initiative 2004-05, with the option of a further two-year term if approved by the assembly.

After that, the contract would have to be put out to bid again.

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