When voters in the city of Kenai fill out their ballots on October 1st, they’ll have a lot of questions to answer.
There are four ballot questions voters will be asked to settle this year. Starting with number four, because it’s pretty non-controversial. It asks “Shall the Charter of the City of Kenai be amended by removing all references in the masculine form and replacing them with gender neutral references?” Pretty simple yes or no question.
Numbers three and two are also sort of, housekeeping-type measures. They update the city’s charter to more accurately reflect the time in which we’re living.
Prop two deals with the mayor’s power to parole, pardon or communicate. That’s a leftover provision from the original charter, approved by voters fifty years ago. Number three also recognizes the gradual emergence of state level agencies and offices that now handle all sorts of regulatory stuff. Like the regulation of milk and milk products. That’s something the city council has control over right now through the charter, but voters are being asked if the city should be relinquished of the responsibility to keep tabs on milk production, the same way it inspects plumbing or electrical work.
Candidate forums for the city council and mayoral races have shown more or less unanimous support for all those; making language in the charter gender-neutral, taking away the mayor’s power to grant pardons, which the mayor doesn’t really have anyway, and the milk business. But Council member Bob Molloy, who’s challenging Pat Porter in the mayor’s race, says making the changes to the charter needs to be handled carefully, and with the right process. It’s the city’s constitution.
“I didn’t support this proposition about putting the power of the Mayor on the ballot for a couple reason. I don’t believe in a piecemeal approach to the charter. I think if we’re going to look at amending sections of the charter, we should do it organically, as a whole. We should establish a charter review commission, either elected or appointed, that has a sunset period; maybe two years, that can come back with recommendations,” Molloy said.
The other ballot measure is kind of the big one.
It asks voters to keep or repeal the city’s new comprehensive plan that was just passed this summer. In fact, the comp plan was one of the main reasons that Mark Schrag is running for city council.
“Kenai is in a great position. We’ve got land available. In the comp plan, they talk about future land use and the real need is residential. I feel like if we make Kenai a great place to live, there’s a lot of people out there who have jobs that allow them to live anywhere and work through the internet, and I would like to attract that kind of (resident),” Schrag said at a recent candidate forum.
There have been two main issues with the comp plan. One is that there wasn’t enough opportunity for public input. Incumbent Brian Gabriel says the dozens of amendments the council considered are proof that the council heard everyone.
“When it finally did come to council, we had, I believe, 55 proposed amendments to the plan that were considered. We did make changes. We did, I feel, listen to people’s views and we just didn’t rubber-stamp it and move on. We put some meaningful work into the plan, so if you get to the point where you’re rewriting the whole plan at the council level, then it should go back to Planning and Zoning and start over,” Gabriel said.
The other thing that opponents of the plan call attention to is a perceived lack of balance; trading the quiet and seclusion of rural neighborhoods for more opportunities for businesses to open up. Terry Bookey, the other incumbent in the race, says despite complaints, the council maintained just that kind of balance with the plan that he supported.
“This is one of those compromise situations, and I think the city council did a good job compromising between the differing points of view and the oftentimes vastly conflicting points of view. And I think it’s important to remember that just because not all ideas were made and changes were made, doesn’t mean that folks weren’t listened to. Each and every person who came into that room was listened to,” Bookey said.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on October first, at three sites: Precinct one at the old Carrs Mall, precinct two at the Challenger Learning Center, and precinct three at the senior center.
In the interest of full disclosure, we point out that Terry Bookey is president of the KDLL Board of Directors.