City passes Kenai chamber reins on economic development issues

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

For the first time in his 18-year tenure as Kenai mayor, John Williams was happy to see an ordinace he proposed defeated by the Kenai City Council on Wednesday evening.

"I am pleased to see it go down in flames," Williams said, after the council unanimously defeated Ordinance 2030-2003.

The proposed ordinance would have amended city code to enable the council to create a special task force consisting of more than seven people for the purpose of meeting to discuss economic development issues. Current city code allows for seven-member task forces and comissions, but the mayor's so-called "Millenium Commission" is proposed to have as many as 20 community members.

However, had the council passed the ordinance, the city would be forced to take the lead role in the commission's affairs, something council members said would defeat the whole purpose of the commission. Instead of the city leading the group, council members agreed that it would be in the city's best interest to let the Kenai Chamber of Commerce lead the commission.

"I like the idea of the chamber of commerce taking the lead in this," said council member Pat Porter.

Porter said that although the chamber would be the lead agency in charge of the project, the city ultimately has the final word on moving forward with any of the commission's final recommendations.

"The city of Kenai is still going to be in control," Porter said.

The proposed commission will be tasked with coming up with new ideas for economic development within the city. It takes its name from the fact that developing a large piece of riverfront property in downtown Kenai known as Millenium Square will be one of its major goals.

Council members said they feel like the city will be kept up to speed on the commisssion's progress because the project orgainzer, Casey Reynolds, is working with the city through the VISTA grant program and reports directly to the city manager. In addition, said council member Rick Ross, having Reynolds guide the project also gives the commission a degree of freedom it might not have had were it under the city's direct control.

"I could see Casey going there as a facilitator, not as a representative of the city pre se," Ross said.

Both the chamber and the city council agreed that the right course of action would be to let the chamber lead the project, then come back to the city with its recommendations on how to improve the city's economy. Kenai Chamber President Cherie Brewer said she believes the opportunity to work with both Reynolds and the city is a good one for the city's business community.

"We are anxious to work with the VISTA volunteer and the city on this," Brewer told the council.

Following the discussion, everyone agreed that a proposed plan that will allow the chamber to facilitate the creation of the commission, Reynolds to lead it and the city to make final decisions on any recommendations is the best way to go. The council then defeated the ordinance, allowing Reynolds and the chamber to begin work immediately on the project the sooner, the better, according to Williams.

"We're going to need all the help we can get with regards to economic development," Williams said. "And quickly."

Following the meeting, Reynolds said a number of applications have already come in from people wishing to serve on the task force, and that he expects selection of the commission to take place within the next week.

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