Blaming Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, Duane Christensen announced his resignation from the Anchor Point Advisory Planning Commission on Wednesday. Christensen's charges bring to the surface heated frustrations surrounding the commissions and the mayor's actions. Or lack of them.
"This mayor has made it abundantly clear that he is not willing or able to enter into discourse with opposing viewpoints on what's best for the borough," Christensen said. "He reappointed Joanne Collins, which is good. Then he appointed two new people, both of them gravel pit operators."
Ed Oberts, Bagley's assistant, delivered the appointments to the borough assembly at a Sept. 26 assembly meeting with an "all or nothing" message from the mayor. Collins, Paul Roderick and Raymond Drake received the assembly's confirmation.
"We had a fairly balanced commission in that we had people who were supportive of gravel pits and industry and we had homeowners who were in favor of balancing the need of industry with the need to conserve and preserve the environment," Christensen said, referring to the makeup of the board prior to the appointments. "That no longer exists."
Christensen said he sent e-mails to several members of the assembly requesting they not confirm at least one of the appointments and expressing the need to maintain balance.
"The response I got from (Homer assembly member) Chris Moss was that the mayor spoke through his representative that if the assembly did not approve his appointments, then he was going to allow (the commission) to go defunct," Christensen said.
"I feel that given (the mayor's) viewpoint, that he's not going to listen to anything coming out of the APC anyway if it happens to disagree with what his opinion is. It's a waste of my effort and time," he said. "And I need to redirect that into some other area that is going to have more positive results for my effort."
Turning up the heat is Bagley's delay in filling nine other vacancies on three other active APCs.
"It's the mayor's obligation and responsibility to put forward candidates that are appropriate to the community and to basically bring them before the assembly for approval," said Bill Popp, assembly president. "I believe the administration has been failing in its duty to move forward appropriate candidates, or in fact any candidates at all.
"If (the administration) is having difficulty putting forth candidates, they should bring that to the assembly," Popp said. "But, quite frankly, we don't know what the problem is. Their answer seems to be to lay down ultimatums without any prior conversation or contact.
"If the administration continues this path of not putting forward candidates, then the assembly will have to find other ways to fill those seats. We'll have to explore possibilities," Popp said. "One would be an elected board."
Advisory planning commissions provide borough residents an avenue to participate in land-use issues and make recommendations to the borough's planning commission on land-use planning and public land management topics that may affect the existing or future character of peninsula communities. Each commission consists of seven voting members. Recom-mendations to be forwarded to the borough planning commission require an affirmative vote of four members, a quorum.
Commissions in Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Funny River, Hope and Sunrise, Kachemak Bay and Moose Pass represent a total of 751,929 acres. The Funny River and the Hope and Sunrise commissions are currently inactive.
"I honestly believe that APCs are a very important piece of the planning process, "Popp said. "They provide local input from a local perspective on land-use issues that will come before the planning commission and the borough assembly.
"The difficulty in dealing with borough lands in some circumstances is that you find a situation where the interests of the borough as a whole may be at odds with the perspective of the local advisory planning commission because borough lands are owned by the citizens of the borough in its entirety."
Dolores "Dodie" Wilson, Cooper Landing APC chairperson, said three vacancies on that commission aren't due to lack of community interest. She said she personally knows of individuals who have submitted applications. With only four members, Wilson said, the commission is unable to do anything without complete agreement.
"We have to have four to have a quorum and we have to have four to have an affirmative vote," she said. "If we don't all show up, and if we don't all vote 'yes,' we can't forward any recommendations."
Although approximately 20 residents attended an Oct. 5 meeting of the Cooper Landing commission, only three APC members were present.
"We couldn't make a motion because we didn't have four," Wilson said. "It makes it hard to have a meeting, but these people should at least have the right to be listened to.
"We don't have a representative on the assembly and we don't have a representative on the planning commission. This is our only voice to get input from the people. That's why we have the planning commission. Are people going to go all the way to the borough assembly to be heard for three minutes?" she asked, referring to the three-minute limit on public comments at assembly meetings.
On the southern peninsula, Milli Martin's recent election to the borough assembly places the Kachemak Bay APC in a bind. Martin served as vice chairperson and treasurer of that commission; however, borough code says, "No assembly member may serve on any borough board or commission."
Her resignation on Friday will leave four vacancies and no possibility of a quorum.
"There are some issues coming up that we'll need a quorum for," said Steve Seelye, chairperson for the Kachemak Bay group.
Those issues include a gravel pit ordinance and a timber harvest.
The atmosphere in Moose Pass is also heated.
"I have an empty (APC) seat that's been empty for over a year because people are so frustrated they don't want to serve," said Ann Whitmore-Painter, commission chairperson and former member of the borough planning commission. "The comment I hear most is, 'Why should we bother? The mayor's not going to listen to us anyway.'"
Whitmore-Painter said feelings are so strong that she feels her role as chairperson is protecting visiting borough staff from the public.
"All I can do is ask the people to calm down," she said. "I tell borough representatives not to take offense. It's not them the public's mad at."
Upon hearing of Anchor Point commissioner Duane Christen-sen's resignation, Whitmore-Painter expressed disappointment.
"This is too bad," she said. It is a loss and definitely sends a message."
Pete Sprague, Soldotna assembly member, was exposed to the mood in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass when he attended meetings of each communities' APC last week.
"I was embarrassed to be an assembly member in that room," Sprague said of his Moose Pass experience.
In Cooper Landing, he said, there is "a very deep-seated distrust of the borough government and the process."
"I am very concerned about the treatment and fate of the APCs," Sprague said. "As the borough continues to grow, I believe that we will need more planning and preparing for the future. Planning that is done in a haphazard, last-minute fashion is not effective. Planning should take into account local knowledge and local wishes. I really don't want the expression 'borough planning' to become an oxymoron."
Oberts said names to fill Moose Pass APC vacancies were submitted to the borough clerk late Thursday afternoon for presentation to the assembly at the Oct. 24 meeting (See related story, this page), but finding candidates for Kachemak Bay and Cooper Landing has been difficult.
He said there has historically been a problem with commissioners understanding their roles and responsibilities.
"(APCs) are difficult because they are a nice local opportunity for people to voice their opinion," Oberts said. "That's one of the reasons we're doing a training session on November 18. It will help them understand and hopefully create a better communication between all the directors here at the borough and the APCs."
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