Soldotna council votes down proposed ballot question

Jul 13, 2017

Voters in Soldotna will not have to consider a ballot question changing the city’s charter, which was just updated last year.

Mayor Pete Sprague introduced an ordinance to put the question on the ballot whether or not the charter should be changed to define the mayor’s role in the city government. Now, that role is already defined in city code. Basically, the mayor runs the council meetings, votes in the event of a tie and has veto powers, but is not considered a full member of the council. That was a hang up for Council Member Linda Murphy.

“I was on the charter commission and I think anyone who attended those meetings knows that it was my desire to have the charter reflect what happens in every other home-rule city in the state, with the exception, I think, of Fairbanks. Every other city has the mayor a full member of the council, voting on every issue, no veto power. It’s common in Kenai, Seward. If we are going to amend the charter, I would prefer to have that amendment rather than what is proposed by the mayor.”

Council Member Paul Whitney likened changing the charter to amending the Constitution — something that happens rarely and only on big issues.

"We have this in the ordinances right now. I don’t see a reason to put this in the charter. There may be a time when the council decides it wants to change the way it's done and this just adds an extra step to it. I think the charter is kind of like the (U.S.) Constitution — you only change it when it’s really necessary and I don’t see this as being absolutely necessary at the time.”

Mayor Pete Sprague defended his proposal, saying this is simply what the charter commission had in mind, even if the language didn’t make it into the final version.

"What I heard the (charter) commission say was that the commission preferred to keep the status quo, which was having the mayor vote only in the case of a tie and have veto powers. The final draft did not have that in the charter. But the way things are structured now, I see the council, if they were not happy with something the mayor did, the council could take away the right to vote and take away the veto power. It’s not a (high) probability, but I see it being a possiblity.”

In the end, the council voted 3-2 against putting the question on the ballot, and while the mayor’s role won’t change now, because that role is defined by city code, it could be changed by the council in the future.