Citizens who want change should take lead role in process

Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2004

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members who believe a move to change the way the borough is governed should be led by citizens and not the assembly are correct.

Earlier this year, a couple of residents launched a petition drive to put the question to voters. Those leading the call for change had two proposals to replace the current style of borough management. Under one plan, the borough assembly would hire a manager. Under the other, the assembly would call for bids from management firms and select the lowest bidder. Under the current form of government, the elected mayor is the chief administrator of the borough.

For technical reasons, the petition was rejected and those behind it chose not to revamp it to meet borough requirements for this year's election.

An ordinance introduced at the assembly's most recent meeting and scheduled for a public hearing Aug. 3 would place a proposition on the fall municipal ballot asking voters whether they want to change to a manager form of government. Supporters of the change have indicated they likely will bring the matter back by petition next year if the issue does not make it on this fall's ballot.

In a memo about the ordinance, assembly member Betty Glick of Kenai said she was introducing it because: "Several members of the public have expressed an interest to me in adopting a manager form of government for the borough. The ordinance is intended to provide an opportunity for the assembly to consider placing the issue before the voters of the borough."

While this is an issue worthy of debate, its placement on the ballot is best left to citizens. Otherwise, it looks as if a particular assembly has some bones to pick with a particular mayor despite Glick's memo and that just looks petty.

There's been no evidence that the system is broken. While the mayor and assembly don't always see eye to eye, that's one of the checks and balances of the current system. While it sometimes seems different political ideologies pit some assembly members and the mayor against each other, those different ideologies also pit assembly members against one another. That's also just part of the system.

Differences of opinion, style, approach and politics are no reason to change the system.

Borough residents should be able to expect the mayor and assembly members to work professionally and cooperatively with one another. While a switch to a manager form of government would seem to require cooperation and professionalism, it would not necessarily guarantee it. And there's no proof that the borough would be better run by a professional manager than it is by an elected mayor.

If citizens want to lead the charge for change, that's great. Any discussion on the issue should provide some specifics about how the borough would be better off by making the leap to a manager form of government. After that discussion, voters could decide.

Voters, however, have more of a say in the current system. If they think the borough is being poorly run and the mayor is doing a bad job, they can give their review at election time. The borough mayor is limited to two terms in office, which provides another check on the system. Plus, since the position is determined by voters, borough mayors tend to be fairly responsive and responsible to voters.

When the matter goes before the assembly next month, assembly members should decline to put it on the fall ballot. Those citizens who have a problem with the current system should take the lead if they want to make a change.

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