Rec center debate sparks referendum

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

Members of the Friends of the Kenai Recreation Center group aren't letting a Kenai City Council vote stop them from opposing a partnership agreement between the city and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula that calls for the club to operate the center.

The group has filed a petition for a referendum vote with the city in an effort to have the citizens of Kenai vote on the matter.

"Responsible government is responsive government," said Carol Brenckle of Kenai at the council's Wednesday meeting. "The majority (of the council) has refused to consider the alternatives to the Boys and Girls Club agreement. ... I suggest that it is now time to put the city council's vote to a vote of the people."

The group must get a number of signatures from qualified Kenai voters equal to at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast during the last city election. If the group returns the petition, the city clerk will have one month from that day to determine whether the petition is legal and has sufficient qualified signatures.

If the clerk decides it does, then the ordinance will go to a vote of the citizens of Kenai, either at the next regularly scheduled election or at a special election.

In its May 21 meeting, the council voted 4-2 to approve the partnership, with Kenai Mayor John Williams and council members Jim Bookey, Joe Moore and Pat Porter voting in favor of the partnership and council members Amy Jackman and John "Ozzie" Osborne voting against it. Council member Linda Swarner was absent at the May 21 meeting, but said in Wednesday's meeting that she opposed the partnership as well.

Friends group members and other members of the public have spoken against the partnership at all public meetings on the matter. The Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission opposed the partnership as well. Commission chair Tim Wisniewski resigned over the matter, saying in a letter to the city sent May 25 that "I feel both the city administration and members of the city council blatantly ignored the wishes of the citizens of Kenai and the Parks and Recreation Commission."

Porter responded to such criticism in Wednesday's meeting by saying she spoke to more people outside of the public meetings who did support the partnership and that she did not make an uneducated decision.

"My heart is in what is best for the city of Kenai," she said.

Opponents to the partnership have complained that the partnership went through too quickly and that the city didn't give enough consideration to other options for running the Rec Center. Another commonly-voiced concern is that the club will do away with adult programs.

The city's position is that the partnership is the best way to save the city money while still offering the same level of services at the center. Club representatives have said it plans to continue to offer the same programs that are currently offered at the center, including adult programs.

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