Assembly considers fixes for service area board vacancies

Right now, the Seldovia Recreational Service Area Board cannot meet. There aren’t enough members to make a quorum.

Three of the five seats are empty and have been since the Oct. 3 election. Three members’ terms were up and they did not reapply, and neither did anyone else. Borough code states that if no one applies, it’s up to the mayor to appoint someone to fill the seat and for the assembly to confirm, but it’s taken until now to find people to fill those seats. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is set to consider three appointments to the board at the upcoming Jan. 2 meeting.

It’s not an uncommon story with service area boards around the borough, especially those in the more remote areas, like Seldovia. Service area boards are volunteer only and advisory to the assembly, so it can be hard to recruit and retain members. In the Oct. 3 election, eight of the 28 vacant seats around the peninsula had no applicants, and all but one of the other seats had only one applicant.

Finding applicants to appoint after an election has passed, getting them through the process and confirmed by the assembly can be time-consuming for the borough clerk’s office, said Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship.

“It’s a lot of time, and it’s unnecessary time,” she said. “People don’t file for office and to be elected and we have to go through the whole noticing process again … it’s a lot.”

Though the service area boards are advisory only, the assembly usually delays decisions until a service area board has had time to weigh in, if relevant. The assembly is considering a variety of fixes for the problem. During a Policies and Procedures meeting before the Dec. 5 assembly meeting, assembly member Dale Bagley said the assembly could consider switching the boards to being appointed rather than elected.

The other problem is that when members are appointed, they only serve for a year until the next election, at which time the whole process starts again. Bagley submitted an ordinance for the Jan. 2 meeting that would allow appointed members to serve the remainder of the term rather than only one year at a time.

“The problem is that some boards are really good at recruiting members for their boards through the election process,” Bagley said. “Others are not, and the clerk has to appoint them each year.”

Blankenship said during the committee meeting that former borough mayor Mike Navarre’s administration sent letters to several service area boards asking if they would consider becoming appointed rather than elected.

Two of them — the Seldovia Recreation Service Area Board and the Kachemak Emergency Service Area Board — signaled that they would be OK with that. Assembly member Willy Dunne submitted an ordinance for the Jan. 2 meeting that would convert those two boards to being appointed rather than elected.

“I think it could be helpful, especially in the small communities,” he said. “A couple of (the boards in District 9 are) very large geographically but they’re very small population, so that could be part of the problem too.”

Kachemak Emergency Service Area Board Vice-Chair Matthew Schneyer said the board members didn’t see a problem with that, as the races are so rarely contested.

“There’s no reason for the borough to spend as much money as they do having an election or putting us on a ballot,” he said.

The assembly made a pass at fixing the service area board vacancy problem in 2012, converting the boards to appointed rather than elected, but shot it down because of public objection to the removal of the election process. The ordinance at the time would have converted membership on all the boards to appointed, but Dunne’s ordinance singles out the two boards in his area. Assembly member Kelly Cooper said she supported Bagley’s ordinance to allow appointed members to serve out a term and would support the decision to convert to appointments as long as it was the boards’ individual decisions.

Assembly President Wayne Ogle, who represents Nikiski, said the service area board members in his area like to elect their own members and have done well at recruiting people, and boards can locally find people to forward to the mayor as candidates if appointments are necessary.

“The responsibility I feel is on me as a member of the assembly as well as the board itself finding and recruiting,” he said. “If it does become an appointed board, we could certainly offer the name up to the board to be appointed.”

Dunne has introduced another ordinance to the assembly also targeted at solving the vacancy problem. If passed, the ordinance would allow some specific members of individual boards to both volunteer and serve on the service area board, which is not currently allowed. Though the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area Board approved it, the Kachemak Emergency Service Area Board voted against it, and the Bear Creek Fire Service Area Board had not had a chance to discuss it.

Dunne said at the Dec. 5 meeting that he would discuss the ordinance further, and the assembly postponed it to the Jan. 2 meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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