Kenai now has rules in writing dictating how and when the public will be notified about business to come before the city council.
After nearly 10 months of give-and-take, the Kenai City Council and city administration reached a compromise Wednesday on a new law and policy governing the preparation, distribution and publication of council meeting agendas.
Councilman Bob Molloy, sponsor of the approved ordinance, previously criticized the city for having minimal requirements in the Kenai Municipal Code relating to the council agenda, instead following unwritten practices for preparing the agenda, publishing it in advance and distributing the agenda to the public.
City Manager Rick Koch has said the city administration looks to state statutes, namely the Alaska Open Meetings Act, when setting policy regarding notice of public meetings.
At Wednesday's meeting, Molloy said "the biggest single difference" between proposed versions of the new city law was the date the council agenda is to be published in the newspaper.
Molloy sought to have the agenda published by the Friday prior to the Wednesday council meeting. City administration wanted to continue publishing the agenda on the Monday before the meeting.
"Those extra days of notice give people time to get the data ... make good arguments," Molloy said.
Koch, however, contended that changing the date would preclude city administration from responding to council requests in a timely manner.
In a time-line illustration provided to the council, Koch showed that moving the publication date from Monday to Friday actually reduces the amount of time the city staff and city manager have to prepare items for the following council meeting to one day. Under the existing time line, the city administration has three days plus the weekend to prepare.
On a 4-3 vote, the council approved an amendment offered by Councilman Hal Smalley to Molloy's proposed ordinance, keeping the time line that mandates publishing notice of the final agenda "in a newspaper of general circulation no later than three days prior to the meeting."
Rather than codify the time line into city law, the rule was approved as part of administrative policies and procedures attached to the new ordinance.
According to City Attorney Cary Graves, such policies and procedures can be changed later with only one vote of the council, rather than needing two readings and a public hearing as required to change the municipal code by ordinance.
The approved new law permits the mayor, council members, city clerk, city attorney and city manager to sponsor an ordinance for introduction or a resolution for adoption.
Also, a member of the public may request that a matter be placed on the agenda subject to policies and procedures, under the "persons scheduled to be heard" caption of the council meeting as long as the request is made on the prescribed form at least eight days before the council meeting.
Items requested by the public that would not be allowed include: items scheduled for public hearing already on the agenda; personnel matters; and items involving pending litigation.
During Wednesday's discussion of the various proposals, Councilman Joe Moore said an isolated incident that occurred last year led to the complex ordinance. One council member wanted something placed on the agenda, and it was not on the published agenda for the meeting, he said.
"Let's not reinvent the wheel," Moore said, in expressing his dissent. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."
Moore said the complex new city law and the policies and procedures could lead to lawsuits being filed against the council.
Molloy countered that by codifying the reasonable notice guidelines, the city is actually protected from lawsuits.
What he perceived as risk management, "would give us more protection," Molloy said.
All voted in favor of the compromise ordinance except Moore and Mayor Pat Porter.
The new law goes into effect in 30 days, according to Koch.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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