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Mayor seeks changes in borough, service area board relationship

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007

Mayor John Williams has asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to relieve him of an authority he says he doesn't need.

It may seem a rare event for an administrative chief executive to seek limits on his or her own power, but Williams said Ordinance 2007-29, introduced at the assembly July 10, is really about cleaning up borough code covering the borough's dozen service area boards of directors.

If adopted, the ordinance would remove two provisions from the code: one authorizing the mayor to delegate authority to service area boards, and another requiring a 90-day notice period when the assembly wishes to take back an authority it has previously granted to a service area.

Both are unnecessary, Williams said.

In a memo to the assembly, he said a section of the borough code now gives mayors the power, with assembly approval, to delegate authority to service area boards, and requiring assembly approval for a mayor to take such authority back. However, another provision essentially duplicates the mayor's authority by giving those powers to the assembly as well — independent of the mayor.

"It seems unnecessary to keep the provision authorizing the mayor to delegate such authority to the service area boards," Williams told the assembly.

Regarding elimination of the 90-day notice period, Williams said, "As the assembly is ultimately responsible for the finances of the borough and is the legislative body governing the borough, it should not be required to wait 90 days to rescind authority that it may need to take back in a shorter period of time."

Service area boards are advisory in nature and do not have power to contravene the authority of either the mayor or assembly, Williams noted. That is consistent with long-established law clarifying that service areas are not separate legal entities, but geographical areas of the borough in which the borough is authorized to exercise powers approved by voters.

In a memo to the assembly, Williams noted that over the last few years, problems had surfaced in both the South Peninsula and Central Peninsula hospital service areas with respect to their roles and relationships with the borough.

At introduction, Homer area delegates, Deb Germano, of Homer, and Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, voted no.

"I don't argue that perhaps it does need to be amended, but I'm not sure that it needed such a drastic amendment," Martin said.

Germano agreed, saying that simply taking back authority to resolve conflicts concerned her, she said.

Martin said the ordinance seemed to be putting the cart before the horse, and that much more discussion was needed. She said adjustment of the 90-day period might be needed, but perhaps 60 or 30 days would be better.

She said she thought the issue had a lot to do with upcoming contract negotiations with South Peninsula Hospital Inc., the nonprofit corporation, often called the operating board, which operates the hospital under the contract with the borough.

The service area board currently has the power to provide for and set the level of hospital services and operate the service area, as well as to recommend the tax levy necessary to fund the service area. That language has effectively put the service area in the midst of periodic negotiations with the operating board.

As a practical matter, Williams has said, the service area board oversees operations of the hospital rather than actually providing them. He wants full negotiations back in his court, with advice and input from the service area board. Whether that will include to a seat at the table is not clear (See related story, page A-1).

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



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