The Kenai City Council experienced changes both of personnel and procedure at its meeting on Wednesday.
A successful ordinance introduced by council member Tim Navarre changed the time of the council’s twice-monthly meetings from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. Other changes came from the Oct. 6 municipal election — the council not only swore in a new member, but also put into action new city code — recently passed by ballot initiative after being introduced by Kenai Mayor Pat Porter — that allows meetings to be canceled by a majority vote. Porter proposed to cancel the council’s Nov. 18 meeting. The motion was postponed until the next meeting on Nov. 4.
After swearing in re-elected member Bob Molloy and newly-elected member Mike Boyle, Porter spoke of her appreciation for the two terms served by former council member Ryan Marquis, who declined to run in the Oct. 6 election and was replaced by Boyle. Marquis was not at the meeting to accept the gift Porter had brought for him — a basket with two plush chickens, in recognition of the failed ordinance Marquis had introduced at the last meeting to allow hen-keeping in Kenai city limits.
“He won’t need a conditional use permit for these!” Porter said, referring to the current Kenai code that requires a permit from the Planning and Zoning commission for hen-keeping.
Getting down to business, the council passed seven resolutions and an ordinance transferring $44,280 of state grant money from now-completed projects to a fund to replace the City Hall roof, for which a contract was awarded by resolution to Rain Proof Roofing. Other resolutions purchased 50 feet of fire hose, portable shelters, packs, helmets, hand-tools, and a breathing-system air compressor for the Kenai Fire Department, and dedicated $333,000 to fulfill a cost-sharing agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for a study of Kenai’s bluff erosion.
The council also unanimously renewed a 10-year lease of the city-owned Kenai Golf Course to its current lessee Griffin Golf Enterprises, owned by Gordon and Deborah Griffin. Griffin currently pays $10,000 annually for two leased golf course properties, but when the new lease becomes effective in January 2016 it will pay $16,000 annually for both leases, with a two percent annual increase in the lease rate.
The council passed the ordinances and resolutions unanimously, with the exception of Navarre’s controversial time-change resolution.
In the ordinance text, Navarre wrote that holding council meetings an hour earlier “would be more convenient for many members of administration and council and may lead to earlier end times, encouraging more public participation especially among youths,” and would “provide consistency for the public” by beginning Kenai Council meetings at the same time as Soldotna Council and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meetings.
Kenai resident Bob Peters testified against the ordinance, saying he had attended nearly every Kenai Council meeting since around 1990, and had rarely seen youth at the meetings.
“It is my opinion that starting the council meeting earlier would not change that fact,” Peters said. He added that by his calculation, the average Kenai council meeting in the previous year lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.
“That means if the meeting started at 7 p.m, it would be over by 8:45,” Peters said. “I don’t think, should some of Kenai’s youth want to attend a council meeting, that 8:45 is keeping them out too late.”
Molloy, who also opposed the change, said the public was used to the current time and he had never heard a complaint about it.
“Some of us that are still employed have to work until 5 or after 5,” said Molloy, who holds a job as an attorney. “The 7 o’clock time gives me an opportunity to freshen up and not wear the same clothes I was wearing all day and have a meal with my spouse instead of fast food.”
Molloy said moving the time would discourage public participation by cutting into time that members of the public may otherwise spend with their families, and would also disrupt the council’s practice of occasionally holding work sessions before meetings, which he said would be less practical if council meetings began an hour earlier.
The resolution passed with Molloy, Boyle, and council member Terry Bookey voting against it.
Afterward, the council unanimously passed three action/approval items, awarding permission to Everts Air Fuel, Inc. for aircraft parking and container storage at the Kenai Airport, and renewing a permit for Hilcorp Alaska to park 37 passenger vehicles at the Kenai airport during its shift changes.
The meeting proceeded smoothly until the mayor’s report, during which Porter requested the council cancel its Nov. 18 meeting.
“It’s the week of AML (the Alaska Municipal League’s annual local government conference) and we have a lot of staff people out of town for that, so if council approves, that would be a meeting that we might consider canceling because a lot of people will be in Anchorage,” Porter said.
Nov. 18 is the first day of the 2015 AML Conference, which will last until Nov. 20. Porter proposed canceling the council’s regular Nov.18 meeting under the change instituted by Kenai ballot proposition 2, passed by 69 percent of Kenai voters in the regular election, which allows the mayor to cancel a meeting for emergency or lack of quorum, or for the council to cancel a meeting by majority vote for any reason. The code change had become effective when the council approved the election results at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting.
After Bookey expressed his opposition to the cancellation and Navarre expressed support, Molloy said that deciding the issue during the mayor’s report, outside the public hearings portion of the meeting, was improper.
Porter said Molloy’s point of order was out of order, saying “I don’t know that we have to notify the public.”
“It’s procedural,” Navarre added in agreement.
Kenai City Clerk Sandra Modigh said the council would need to vote on whether or not introducing the matter during the mayor’s report was out of order. The council decided it was not, with Bookey, Boyle, and Molloy casting opposing votes.
“I’m pretty disappointed in this group right now,” Bookey said after the vote, when the council considered the motion to cancel the meeting. Porter said Bookey’s comment was “rude” before allowing him to proceed.
“I understand the ability to cancel meetings, but everything this body has done regarding how we meet and things like that tends to push away, in my opinion, the… public,” Bookey said. “Here’s an example. We’re going to go ahead, with no notice whatsoever, just decide we don’t have to do business, and there’s nobody here who can discuss on it because it’s hidden in a mayor’s report. It’s a shame.”
Navarre said the AML conference was one of “the exact reasons a meeting could and should be canceled.”
“The public is not missing out,” Navarre said. “We’re not going to do any business without the public’s knowledge by canceling a meeting. All we’re doing is postponing it to the next meeting. But there is nothing that gets to go by the public because you didn’t have one meeting in November.”
Navarre said AML included events for city clerks and attorneys which may cause them to miss the upcoming meeting.
Council member Henry Knackstedt said he was uncertain about whether the meeting should be canceled.
“What I don’t know is what we’re going to have as far as business when we get closer to the 18th, in which case cancelling it may not be a great idea,” Knackstedt said.
Knackstedt asked Modigh what members of city government and administration would be at the AML conference on the 18th. Modigh said the clerk’s conference would be held before the main conference and would finish on Tuesday evening, allowing her to be back in time for the council meeting, and the attorney’s conference would also be held earlier. Of the council, she said that Porter had told her of plans to be gone the week of the conference, but had said she would travel back to Kenai for the council meeting.
Porter spoke afterwards on the difficulty she said this departure from the conference could cause her.
“During AML, to rush into town and out of town, there’s a lot of networking that goes on during the rest of the week,” Porter said. “A lot of other activities that go on as well. For those people who attend AML, it’s very valuable.”
Bookey said that the reason for canceling the meeting may be valid, but the right process for doing so was not being followed.
“It’s not why we’re doing it, it’s how we’re doing it,” Bookey said.
Gabriel moved to postpone the cancelation vote and place it on the agenda at the council’s Nov. 4 meeting. The council unanimously agreed.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.