Cities oppose proposed changes to planning commission

Aug 6, 2021

The borough's planning commission has 11 seats, including four seats for its five incorporated cities. Previously, it had 13.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said the current process for appointing city representatives to the borough’s planning commission needs an update. He drafted an ordinance that outlines several suggestions to revamp the code last month.

But representatives from borough cities worry those changes would take what’s historically been a city decision and place it in the hands of the borough. 

“I don’t think any of the first-class cities agree that Mayor Pierce should be filling our seats," said Homer Mayor Ken Castner.

There are 11 seats on the planning commission — seven “at-large” seats and four seats for the borough’s five first-class cities.

Those seats are filled by people who live within city limits. Candidates apply directly to cities and those cities then send their recommendations to the borough for approval.

This summer, the city of Soldotna received and forwarded one name for its vacant seat — Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings. She was appointed to the Soldotna City Council this winter and ran against Pierce in the last two borough mayor elections.

But Pierce told the city one name isn’t enough, since borough code asks for a “list” of recommendations. He told Soldotna to send more names.

“If I get a name from an individual from one of the cities and I choose to not appoint, that’s certainly my prerogative," he said at Tuesday's assembly meeting.

“I agree that it’s your prerogative," said Tyson Cox, who represents Soldotna on the assembly. "I just feel that it’s a bit petty.’

Pierce is proposing the borough advertise for open seats and forward applicant names to the cities. 

But Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney said the city should do its own advertising, the way it’s been done for decades. 

He said the city is not planning on submitting another name and that a list of one interested party is still a list. The borough is already advertising for the Soldotna seat and is taking applications until Aug 8.

“We’re kind of waiting to see what the borough comes up with, if they come up with any applications," Whitney said. "And if they do, they’ll forward it to us and we’ll take a look.”

He said this is the first time the borough has solicited applications for a city seat.

Pierce’s new code proposes that commission members who represent cities do not need to be from those cities.

That concerns Whitney. He said representatives should be residents of the cities they’re representing.

“The way it has been in the past," he said.

Castner, of Homer, agrees. 

"It’s hard enough to find somebody to fill these seats," he said. "Especially someone that’s willing to spend the time. And we really need to have somebody who’s informed on the city end of things.”

Pierce said the changes will open the process to more potential applicants. 

"And what we’ll do is we’ll stop discriminating against our residents in this borough," he said. "We’ll allow everybody to apply.”

The ordinance also proposes combining the Homer and Seldovia seats into one.

There are five incorporated cities and only four city seats. One city is left off every few years.

Pierce is proposing eliminating the Seldovia seat and merging it with Homer, with the list of recommendations approved by Homer’s city council.

Castner said that change is unfair.
“Seldovia gets their own seat," he said. "You know? You can't force us to share it.”

Castner, with the approval of the Homer City Council, sent the borough assembly a letter opposing some of the proposed changes.

Pierce’s ordinance is still just a draft and has not yet been formally introduced.