Borough assembly elects new officers

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

It took just one secret ballot Tuesday to elect Pete Sprague of Soldotna the new president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Assembly member Gary Superman of Nikiski then was selected as vice president by a unanimous vote.

Sprague won the year-long term as presider over assembly meetings in a 5-4 vote over Grace Merkes of Sterling.

Just prior to the vote, assembly member Betty Glick of Kenai listed some of the duties of the assembly president. As she finished, she added her own comment, taking a shot at past practices she has said she views as overstepping the assembly's duties.

"I did not read each and every duty of the president. I read what were the the most pertinent ones," she said. "And just as an added comment, nowhere does it say the president or indeed any assembly member has the right to micromanage the borough or usurp the authority of the borough mayor."

She said the assembly should remember which are its duties and which belong to the mayor's office.

Assembly member Paul Fischer of the Central District said he thinks the assembly should look at what he called "the excessive passing of the gavel," something the president must do if he or she is to address an issue before the body.

"If you're to conduct the meeting, you shouldn't control the meeting," he said. "That's just one of my personal things."

Merkes, who as vice president until last night, often accepted the gavel from former president Tim Navarre. She said she would not render opinions unless she had passed the gavel.

Sprague said he was familiar with the duties of the president, the assembly and the mayor.

"As for passing the gavel, I would imagine that from time to time I would pass it, but it's not going very far and not going for very long," he said.

In Mason's Rules of Order, which govern assembly meetings, all comments are directed to the president. Thus, the president must pass the gavel to make comments beyond those necessary simply to move the meeting along.

Assembly presidents are voting members of the assembly, unlike mayors in weak-mayor forms of city governments who preside over council meetings but only vote to break ties.

Nothing in Mason's rules preclude or limit the president from exercising his right to pass the gavel and comment.

The president also represents the constituency of his district and cannot represent them fully if his comments are limited by his capacity as president, assembly member Ron Long said Wednesday.

"The president has the responsibility to express his opinion," he said.

"I think it was creating an issue built around an assumption that was not entirely accurate. It plays a sideboard to a popularized belief that the assembly is acting without providing the public with the opportunity for comment."

On Glick's comment against the assembly micromanaging borough affairs, Long said there is always a temptation to do that.

"But I think we have done a good job of resisting that temptation," he said.

Later in the meeting, Sprague told the assembly he wanted to make some changes in the way the body conducts the committee meetings usually held in the afternoon before a regular meeting. Currently, the entire assembly sits as several different committees over the course of a day -- Finance, Lands, Policies and Procedures, Legislative, and lastly, the Committee of the Whole.

Sprague said he would move to limit the finance, lands and policies and procedures committees to three-members each and run them concurrently, followed by the Legislative Committee, which would remain a committee for the entire assembly.

The Committee of the Whole would be eliminated. He also proposed moving the committee meeting times closer to the assembly meeting time of 7 p.m.

Other committee members supported the move to shorten the meeting schedule, but Long cautioned against moving the meeting hours to a point later in the day because committee members often need borough staff help in answering questions.

A later schedule might mean paying overtime to staffers or going without answers.

Sprague also indicated a preference for having public testimony before committees channeled toward the evening meeting instead. Frequently, the same testimony is given at both. Sprague acknowledged that might mean longer regular assembly meetings.

None of the proposed changes was adopted Tuesday, but the issues are on the table.

Following the restructuring, the assembly got down to the evening's agenda. Among other things it heard from Northern Economics Inc., which has recently completed a feasibility study on a Nikiski industrial park.

In other business, the assembly:

Heard from representatives of Central Peninsula General Hospital, who delivered the facility's latest quarterly report. Among other things, the hospital is taking a much closer look at its finances.

Approved several spending measures accepting and reappropriating grants to various agencies. These included $100,000 for expansion of the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center; $200,000 for development of a borough transportation plan; $20,000 to Bear Creek Fire Service Area for equipment and training; $160,000 to the Kachemak Emergency Service Area for a fire truck; $55,583 to the Anchor Point Solid Waste Transfer Site for installing electrical equipment; and $649,000 for borough and school district self-insurance purposes.

Approved transfer of a $200,000 state block grant from Seldovia to the borough, which will assume responsibility for administering the funds for construction of a community education center in Seldovia.

Passed a resolution commending Kenai Peninsula School District Superintendent Donna Peterson for being named the Alaska 2003 Superintendent of the Year.

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