Borough Assembly to consider invocation case appeal and new policy

Nov 13, 2018



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After roughly two years, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly may answer two contentious questions next week: who is allowed to lead an invocation, and should the borough appeal an October court ruling declaring its current invocation policy unconstitutional?

A new resolution would let any borough resident give an invocation, though they would not be allowed to lead one more than four times per year. Borough assembly members will also formally decide whether to fight the superior court decision that spurred the latest policy proposal.

The assembly has grappled with the policy since the summer of 2016 when a member of the Satanic Temple ended an invocation in the words “hail Satan.”

Some assembly members quickly crafted and voted in favor of a policy restricting who is able to lead a prayer or speak before meetings.

Assembly member Kelly Cooper crafted the latest policy proposal, and she said it’s a compromise she hopes all assembly members can agree to.

“My personal preference is to not have an invocation at all, but my constituents throughout the borough, there was a majority that thought the invocation was important,” Cooper explained. “So, in drafting the resolution to change that, I honored that. We’ll continue to have an invocation, but it will be open to every citizen of the borough.”

Assembly member Willy Dunne has been a vocal opponent of the current policy, and he has also pushed to eliminate invocations. However, Dunne said the proposed policy is a compromise he can live with. As for the question of whether to appeal, Cooper, assembly president Wayne Ogle, who co-sponsored Cooper’s policy resolution, and Dunne think the assembly should stray from another court battle.  

“I am very strongly opposed to appealing it. We’ve spent way too much money on this issue so far. I’ve been wrangling with this ever since I was early in my term as a borough assembly member,” Dunne said. “I believe it’s time to let it go.”

Dunne also sued the borough over his ability to write an op-ed piece on the issue. Both the invocation and Dunne cases have cost the borough $86,000 in legal fees and borough staff time, according to public records sent to KBBI and records obtained through a 2017 public information request.

However, that number doesn’t include any staff time past February of 2017 and legal fee invoices after May of this year. KBBI has submitted another information request to obtain the most current estimate.

The borough assembly will consider both Cooper’s policy proposal and whether to appeal the ruling gin the invocation case at its next regular meeting on Nov. 20.

CREDIT COURTESY OF THE KENAI PENINSULA BOROUGH

After roughly two years, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly may answer two contentious questions next week: who is allowed to lead an invocation, and should the borough appeal an October court ruling declaring its current invocation policy unconstitutional?

A new resolution would let any borough resident give an invocation, though they would not be allowed to lead one more than four times per year. Borough assembly members will also formally decide whether to fight the superior court decision that spurred the latest policy proposal.

The assembly has grappled with the policy since the summer of 2016 when a member of the Satanic Temple ended an invocation in the words “hail Satan.”

Some assembly members quickly crafted and voted in favor of a policy restricting who is able to lead a prayer or speak before meetings.

Assembly member Kelly Cooper crafted the latest policy proposal, and she said it’s a compromise she hopes all assembly members can agree to.

“My personal preference is to not have an invocation at all, but my constituents throughout the borough, there was a majority that thought the invocation was important,” Cooper explained. “So, in drafting the resolution to change that, I honored that. We’ll continue to have an invocation, but it will be open to every citizen of the borough.”

Assembly member Willy Dunne has been a vocal opponent of the current policy, and he has also pushed to eliminate invocations. However, Dunne said the proposed policy is a compromise he can live with. As for the question of whether to appeal, Cooper, assembly president Wayne Ogle, who co-sponsored Cooper’s policy resolution, and Dunne think the assembly should stray from another court battle.  

“I am very strongly opposed to appealing it. We’ve spent way too much money on this issue so far. I’ve been wrangling with this ever since I was early in my term as a borough assembly member,” Dunne said. “I believe it’s time to let it go.”

Dunne also sued the borough over his ability to write an op-ed piece on the issue. Both the invocation and Dunne cases have cost the borough $86,000 in legal fees and borough staff time, according to public records sent to KBBI and records obtained through a 2017 public information request.

However, that number doesn’t include any staff time past February of 2017 and legal fee invoices after May of this year. KBBI has submitted another information request to obtain the most current estimate.

The borough assembly will consider both Cooper’s policy proposal and whether to appeal the ruling gin the invocation case at its next regular meeting on Nov. 20.