Assembly size at heart of debate

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

Give voters a choice was the clear message sent to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday night.

Acting on the recommendations of an 11-member reapportionment committee, Assembly President Tim Navarre, of Kenai, and assembly members Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, and Milli Martin, of Homer, all of whom served on the the reapportionment committee, introduced an ordinance offering voters in October a choice of two of the committee's four proposed plans that will determine the representational makeup of the borough's governing body.

However, on Tuesday, Navarre and assembly member Bill Popp, of Kenai, introduced a substitute ordinance that, if passed, would have asked voters if they favor nine single-member districts. Word of the last-minute introduction -- called a "laydown" -- spread quickly. By the time the item was reached on Tuesday's agenda, the audience was filled with residents eager to express their views.

Betty Glick, who chaired the reapportionment committee, reviewed the committee's efforts to develop several plans from which the assembly and voters could choose. Using borough maps, the committee struggled to maintain, rather than divide, neighborhoods. In the end, they offered the assembly plans for a seven-, nine-, 11- and 13-member assembly. A poll of a majority of the committee reflected a preference for the nine- and 13-member options.

"We took our job seriously," said Glick, who was involved in borough reapportionment after the last census 10 years ago.

Glick also served on the borough assembly from 1982 until 1992, when it was made up of 16 elected representatives from across the borough. She served another four years after voters reduced it to the present nine-member size.

"The bottom line was that at least two plans be put before (voters)," said Glick, cautioning the assembly that limiting the choices could result in decreased voter turnout.

Addressing her personal response to Navarre and Popp's substitute, Glick added, "This laydown distresses me personally.

"Right from the get-go, my personal preference was that the electorate have two plans from which to choose," she said.

Ruby Kime, another committee member, echoed Glick's testimony.

"What is necessary is a choice of options for the public," said Kime, encouraging the assembly to include the 13-member option as one of the options.

Committee member Debra Holle also objected to the laydown, telling the assembly that it was "shooting itself in the foot" if it ignored the committee process. Like Glick, Holle has served on the borough assembly. She served a three-year term from 1995 until 1998.

Barbara Waters, of Kenai, focused her testimony on Popp.

"Mr. Popp, I respectfully request you withdraw your name from this laydown," Waters said, reminding Popp that he was her representative on the assembly.

Art Waters, of Kenai, said, "If you pass this laydown, what you are saying is that I don't deserve a choice. I'm ashamed of the fact that you even put the laydown together. I'm going to remember this next election."

Doug Ruzicka, of Anchor Point, characterized the attempt to limit voters' options as a "bad, bad, bad idea."

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley also weighed in on the discussion.

"I have heard many, many people ask for a larger assembly," Bagley said. "I hope you will consider the 11- and 13-member choices."

After the public had its say, Popp focused on the ordinance introduced by Navarre, Sprague and Martin and moved that one of the two plans be the nine-member option. That amendment passed, with only Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, voting against it.

Sprague entered a motion to include the 13-member plan as the second option for voters to consider in October.

Saying his district wants a smaller assembly, Ron Long, of Seward, said he wouldn't support Sprague's amendment.

Navarre, holding to his belief that a "nine-member district is the only real choice," argued against a need for increased representation on the assembly.

"The borough's whole budget goes to schools and garbage," Navarre said. "That's the whole borough. We're one entity."

From the audience, Holle interrupted, "Maybe we just need a mayor and that's it."

Navarre continued by saying that across the country, similar governing bodies are smaller, "normally three- to five-member boards."

"I don't think 13 is going in the right direction," he said.

Chris Moss and Milli Martin, who represent areas of the southern peninsula, both offered support for the 13-member option, as did Fischer and Mark Powell, of Nikiski.

"Ten people testified that they want (the assembly) larger," Fischer said. "Put 13 in and let the people decide.

Powell said he has heard support for a larger assembly from his constituents.

"My vote is to go with the public," he said. "The key is choice."

The 13-member option passed on a 5-to-4 vote, with Navarre, Popp, Merkes and Long opposing it.

The ordinance, offering peninsula voters in October the choice of a nine- or 13-member borough assembly, passed unanimously.

"The laydown was my choice to propose a simple amendment," Popp said Wednesday morning. "It put it in a clean form and wasn't anything unusual. We talked about the potential of offering only one plan at the last assembly meeting. I don't believe it was as big a surprise as it's being pumped up to be."

Popp credited Glick's testimony with causing him to reconsider.

"Her perspective is one that I had not taken into account," Popp said of her concern that offering two options was "a way to get people to turn out at the polls."

However, Popp said, he believes the 13-member plan is a poor choice for the borough.

"I think most of the voters will see it that way and vote it down and go for the nine-member plan," he said.

"Thirteen is growing government. Plain and simple."

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