The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will not have in-person meetings in Seward or Homer next year following a vote by the assembly Tuesday. The assembly has historically met in Homer and Seward once a year, but stopped doing so in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assembly member Cindy Ecklund, who represents the east peninsula, proposed amending the assembly’s 2022 meeting schedule such that the body would travel to Seward in April and to Homer in September. The assembly approved the body’s 2022 meeting schedule during their Nov. 9 meeting with the understanding that it could be amended at a later date to include in-person meetings.
“There’s so many people serving the borough in these other areas,” Ecklund said Tuesday. “I just thought that would be something that people would want to do. … (It’s) one time a year, guys.”
Those who support the assembly traveling twice a year for meetings say it offers the opportunity for assembly members to make important in-person connections, while those opposed said Zoom has improved the experience for people participating remotely.
Brent Hibbert, who has served on the assembly during such in-person meetings, said the day usually involves the borough clerk traveling to the city ahead of time to set up and that assembly members sometimes eat lunch with the local city council. Hibbert pointed out that the Homer mayor and Seldovia city manager participated in Tuesday’s meeting remotely via Zoom.
“I don’t know why we can’t do this by Zoom,” Hibbert said. “We have the capabilities. It keeps us off the road, it keeps us safe. We’re not driving back in the dark … I’m going to vote no.”
Assembly member Lane Chesley, who represents Homer and attended Tuesday’s meeting remotely, said he’s received “split comments” on the issues and proposed a hybrid model where just the mayor and chief of staff traveled to different parts of the peninsula and attended an assembly meeting with regional members.
“A lot of folks have been telling me they’re satisfied with the Zoom format,” Chesley said.
The assembly ultimately voted 6-3 to not hold meetings in Seward and Homer, with assembly members Chesley, Mike Tupper and Ecklund voting in support of amending the meeting schedule to include in-person meetings in those communities.
Homer resident Ingrid Harrald, who said she listens to borough assembly meetings regularly, told the council during testimony given Tuesday that she was “disappointed” in the decision not to meet in smaller communities.
“You have borough assembly members from the small communities that travel to Kenai and Soldotna all the time, and nobody talks about the safety and the travel for those assembly members,” Harrald said. “As somebody who is very involved in local politics, me talking over Zoom or over the phone does not have the impact of sitting in front of you.”
Tuesday’s full meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly can be viewed on the borough’s website at kpb.us.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.