This October, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will get to decide the way the borough is managed -- by an appointed manager or elected mayor.
Currently, the borough has a mayor as chief executive and the borough assembly is the legislative body. But this fall's Proposition No. 2 ballot measure asks voters if they want to adopt a manager form of government where day-to-day administrative duties would be left to a hired borough manager.
At a joint Kenai and Soldotna chamber of commerce luncheon Tuesday, Kenai Peninsula Borough officials debated the issue.
Assemblymen Charlie Pierce and Gary Knopp spoke in favor of the proposition while Borough Mayor Dave Carey and Lisa Parker, former borough employee who also served on Soldotna City Council, spoke against it.
Pierce, of Sterling, called for the ballot initiative this year after opposing the idea when Knopp proposed a similar ordinance last year.
For Pierce, the proposition comes down to qualifications and business experience.
Pierce opened his statements with an assertion that the ballot measure is not a personal attack on Carey or any previous mayor. This was a change of tune from earlier this year when Pierce said he had lost confidence in Carey's ability to make daily business decisions, but Tuesday he spoke philosophically rather than personally.
The borough's current system can elect a mayor due to popularity and personality and without an administrative resume, he said.
"Mayors are often elected on perceived experience rather that actual experience," he said. "The borough would be better served with someone that has solid business skills."
Carey argued that the proposition would take away people's freedom to vote for their own leaders.
"Should a group of five older men hold all the power in borough government?" he asked hypothetically referring to a majority of borough assembly members needed to approve action. "If one does not like living in democracy where we get to choose our leaders, vote yes."
Knopp, of Kalifornsky, said the borough manager position wears a lot of hats as politician and administrator.
"It gets to a point you need a little more effective management on an everyday basis," he said.
Knopp said many communities nationwide have strong manager forms of government. In Alaska, only four places still have a strong mayor, he said, including North Pole, the Municipality of Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai Peninsula Borough.
The borough mayor position would not become "strictly ceremonial" with the creation of a borough manager but the mayor will be "a lot more active in the legislative side than administrative side."
To Parker, the government structure is all about holding government responsible.
"An elected mayor serving as chief executive is accountable," she said. "We can hold a strong mayor accountable. We can and we have voted mayors out of office."
She said a strong mayor government will "protect the checks and balances that maintain the strong cornerstone of government."
Parker was also concerned that the public would be left out of the decision-making process if the proposition passes because the assembly will decide on the new government structure and there are "many questions left unanswered."
"We don't know what the answers are and we won't know what the answers are," she said.
Knopp said if the proposition passed, the assembly would solicit as much public input as possible to define job duties for a weak mayor and strong manger.
Knopp said he believes a borough manager position, if created, should warrant a $150,000 to $1750,000 yearly salary. This is more than mayor's current $79,000 plus benefits compensation but could save money due to efficiencies, he said.
"An experienced manager would require higher salary that what we are currently paying," he said.
Proposition No. 2 is on the ballot for the Oct. 5 election.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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