Term limit initiatives rejected; ACT plans to correct language

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2007

Initiative petition applications submitted June 5 by the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers to impose term limits on borough assembly and school board seats have been rejected by the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk, but only for technical deficiencies that can be corrected.

In separate letters to the initiatives’ prime sponsor, Ruby Kime, of Ninilchik, Borough Clerk Sherry Biggs suggested revising the proposed term-limit ordinances to clarify the effect they would have on sitting members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education if they were to go into effect.

Under state statute, an ordinance altering the term of a seat on a governing body cannot affect the status of a sitting member of that body, except when the alteration is required by a change in apportionment or composition of the governing body.

As originally submitted, the initiatives, given the numbers 2007-02 and 2007-03, were unclear about the effect they might have on a seated member.

Another ACT member, Mike McBride, of Nikiski, has proposed alternative language that Biggs suggested be incorporated into the proposed ordinances to overcome their technical deficiencies, and that they be resubmitted to the clerk.

She told Kime that with the new language in place, she anticipated a quick legal review.

Biggs explained that the “light” legal review required before initiative sponsors can begin gathering the signatures of voters needed to actually put the questions before the voters on the October municipal ballot was far less rigorous than the review the proposed term-limit provisions themselves might prompt if voters approve the changes.

Biggs told Kime that it appeared the ordinances would raise concerns warranting a more in-depth post-election analysis.

As currently written, the two initiative ordinances would bar any person who has completed two consecutive terms as a member of the assembly or school board from serving another term until a period of three years had passed.

The proposed ordinance also defined “term” as being a three-year regular period in office “or any portion of a term of office served by appointment or election to the remainder of an unexpired term vacated by another.”

The ordinances also note that any term served within six years prior to the date the ordinance was approved by voters would be counted for purposes of determining term limits.

Those provisions may be problematic from a constitutional viewpoint, Biggs suggested.

“Some of the concerns involve whether term limits are constitutional in light of the limitations they place on the fundamental right to vote and the length of time the initiative excludes an individual from running for office again,” she said in the letter to Kime.

Language proposed by McBride could overcome difficulties in meeting provisions of the “light” pre-election review, Biggs said.

The McBride language would add clauses covering terms of less than three years brought about by a change in the governing body’s “composition, membership structure, districting or apportionment,” and, employing the borough’s own code, would apply the term-limit restriction to any office holder whose second term was to end in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Another clause would mirror the state law provision that newly imposed term limits would not affect a seated member — that is, could not force him or her out of office immediately.

Reached Wednesday morning, Kime said ACT hoped to turn in revised initiative applications by Friday. She said the group was digesting the information from Biggs and reviewing borough code having to do with candidate qualifications.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.

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