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Kenai council talks planning and zoning commission appointments

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Kenai’s city council ended a work session Monday night in a stalemate over alterations to the commissions and committees appointment process.

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The council tentatively agreed on several changes to the process by which citizens are appointed to Kenai’s Planning and Zoning Commission, but could not come to a decision on whether or not to publish applications from each interested party when the city’s mayor announces her choice to fill an opening. 

Applications are already included in the twice-monthly city council packet when a person applies for a commission, and available at City Hall as a public record. Councilmen Bob Molloy, Terry Bookey, and Mike Boyle are in favor of also providing the public with information regarding the potential members in the agenda packet when the mayor’s decision is announced. 

Councilmen Tim Navarre and Brian Gabriel, and Mayor Pat Porter were against providing the information at that time. 

Porter said a mayor sometimes gets applications from a person that is unfit for the job, and didn’t want to continue putting out their application when they would not ever be nominated for the position.

Navarre said that it could open up the council for more criticism, and result in the public weighing in on the appointments when they are something the council and mayor were elected to handle.

“They want us to do the job,” he said.

Molloy said the public should be involved if it wanted, and that citizens have the right to state their views.

“We’re all going to get criticism anyway,” Molloy said.

Boyle agreed, and said he would open up the whole process to a vote if it were his choice.

Vice Mayor Ryan Marquis said he could see both sides of the issue, but didn’t know which way he would vote when the matter comes before the council in December. Unless someone changes their mind, his vote will be the deciding one.

Molloy and Bookey brought the original ordinance forward, and came to the table with a substitute version Monday night. That substitute was the one the council mostly agreed about on Monday. Molloy said Tuesday that he and Bookey will be introducing that substitute version as an amendment to the original ordinance at the council’s Dec. 7 meeting.

The substitute would also codify requirements for advertising vacancies and set a timeline for the council to confirm the mayor’s nominations.

Molloy said the crux of the ordinance was to allow council members to do their due diligence and properly vet the mayor’s appointments. He and Bookey also wanted to see the public have plenty of notification on what was happening.

Gabriel said he thought it was the mayor’s right to appoint whomever she wished, but he agreed that some of the code could use adjustment, such as the advertising.

Navarre said that he had issues with many of the changes individually, and didn’t see a need for the ordinance or changes to the process. 

“I don’t see a problem,” Navarre said. “It’s a political appointment.”

Navarre also wanted any changes to apply to all commission and committees, not just the Planning and Zoning Commission.

But Bookey said that commission is on a different level than the others because it is more than an advisory body, as the other commissions and committees are. The Planning and Zoning Commission acts as a quasi-judicial body in some matters.

Navarre said he also didn’t want to see the council require the city to buy newspaper ads in the future.

“Newspapers might be long and gone and then what do you do?” Navarre asked.

Porter agreed that the city might need to rethink how it advertises its vacancies. She said the newspaper ad announcing legal ads generally does not garner any members for the city’s advisory bodies. She also provided information on how other cities and boroughs in Alaska handle advertising their meetings and positions. Anchorage, which has several hundred positions on various commissions and committees, does its advertising electronically.

Mayoral appointments have been a sticking point over the past few years. Most recently, the council voted down a potential appointment in January, when the Mayor chose not to reappoint a member of the planning and zoning commission who wanted to serve another term on that body. The council began discussing changes the process last spring, and held a work session on the issue at that time. An ordinance came before the council in November and was postponed for further work.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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