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Kenai tables decision on Millennium Commission

Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2003

Creating the Millennium Commission likely won't take a thousand years, but it will be two more weeks before the Kenai City Council decides what form the new economic development commission will take.

Saying more time is needed to think about just how to structure the group, the council voted Wednesday to table an ordinance that would have amended the city's municipal code to allow the creation of a commission with more than seven members. Currently, the city's code states commissions are limited to just seven members, but the proposed group likely will include 15 to 20 members.

Council members didn't have a problem amending the code to allow for a larger commission. The question for the city to consider is whether the Millennium Commission should be regulated by an ordinance, or if the city should partner with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce in order to allow for a more informal process.

Council member Jim Bookey said he wants to see the commission move forward, but he's worried that if too much control is given to the chamber, the city could end up in a position where the commission recommends a course of action the council is not interested in pursuing.

"I'm not about, at this point, to go into a program that leaves us vulnerable," Bookey said.

He said if a commission is created without official city oversight, such a situation could arise, making any work the commission carried out basically useless. Bookey said he'd like to see an ordinance passed to ensure the city is involved at each step of the process.

However, not everyone on the council agrees that an ordinance is needed.

In fact, letting the chamber take the lead could make sense because it would mean meetings could get under way sooner. If an ordinance is needed to create the commission, it won't go into effect for 30 days, meaning meetings could not begin until after the holidays.

Mayor John Williams said he originally intended to get the program under way as quickly as possible. But he quickly realized that the more the city government is involved, the more slowly the process may progress.

"I failed to take into consideration the very basis with which government runs, which is without speed," Williams said.

Council member Blaine Gilman said he doesn't think an ordinance is needed for the creation of the commission. Instead, he believes the city would remain informed of what action the commission is taking through the participation of Kenai Economic Director Casey Reynolds, who will head up the project either way.

"Larger government isn't always the best," Gilman said.

He made the analogy that city streets are plowed when it snows, even though council members aren't present to ensure the work gets done.

"We don't need a council member to sit in the grader with them," Gilman said.

Council member Rick Ross said he would be more inclined to vote for an ordinance, rather than turning over the commission to the private sector. He said it's imperative that the city is kept up-to-date about what's happening on the commission.

"Unless the council is kept fully apprised at every step ... we could get ourselves behind the eight-ball," Ross said.

The city administration has said it believes either way the council decides to go would be acceptable. City Manager Linda Snow said she came up with an alternative to passing an ordinance simply because it likely would speed up the process.

"We only came up with this because there were some problems identified (with the ordinance)," Snow said, saying an ordinance would mean stricter rules would apply, such as requirements for members to report conflicts to the Alaska Public Offices Commis-sion.

For its part, the chamber said whatever way the city decides to go would be acceptable. The only difference between the two sides, essentially, is what level of involvement the city will have in what is intended to be a broad-based group of civic leaders, business people, Native leaders and members of the general public.

Chamber board president-elect Tim Navarre spoke Wednesday in favor of allowing the project to move forward without an ordinance. He said he believes the city would be fully aware of what direction the commission takes regardless of whether it's an official city commission or not.

"The public is going to be involved," Navarre said.

He said the purpose of the commission will be to simply engage in a community dialogue, then bring its findings back to the council.

"It's going to say, 'Here's what the community strategy is in the city of Kenai. Do what you want with it,'" Navarre said.

In the end, the council decided the process for forming the commission can still proceed without an ordinance. There is no restriction on soliciting applications from community members, no matter what the council eventually decides to do.

The ordinance was tabled, and the council will reconsider the issue at its Dec. 3 meeting.

Despite the difference in opinion as to how to structure the commission, Williams said he was pleased with the discussion Wednesday, saying each side had valid concerns and that he was pleased the council was able to bring the issues to the table.

"I think this is one of the best discussions we've had," he said.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

n Voted to increase the Kenai Visitors' and Cultural Center budget by $2,500 for advertising. Council members Gilman and Ross voted against the measure, saying city departments need to be mindful of the city's current budget situation.

"I think it's real important that we send a message to all the different departments ... that we have to live under our budget constraints," Gilman said.

Accepted a $205,027 Depart-ment of Homeland Security grant for the purchase of digital wireless communication equipment.

Accepted a $350,000 state grant to construct a new boat launch facility and exit road at the Kenai City Dock.

Accepted a $40,000 state grant for maintenance and facility improvements at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center's kitchen facility.

Accepted a $7,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation for the purchase of John Van Zyle painting to add to the city's permanent collection.

Amended the city's fine schedule. The changes include changing city code to allow for second-time violators of the city's barking and loose dog laws to pay a $100 fine instead of making a mandatory court appearance. The council also amended the code to call for a $100 fine for violations of its junk car ordinance. Both changes will make it easier for the city to collect fines, because instead of having to get warrants issued for people who fail to appear, the city can simply attach the fines to people's Alaska Permanent Fund checks.



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