Mayor Charlie Pierce speaks at a Kenai Peninsula Borough meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Mayor Charlie Pierce speaks at a Kenai Peninsula Borough meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough seeks to change planning commission selection process

Traditionally, cities have advertised for their vacant seat on the commission, with applications forwarded to the city council for review

Under legislation currently being crafted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration, the borough, not cities, would recommend candidates for vacancies on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission.

The borough’s planning commission is responsible generally for planning the “systematic development and betterment” of the borough. Among other things, the planning commission has approval and rejection authority over plots of land and can investigate public buildings or structures.

Current statute dictates that representatives from five of the borough’s incorporated communities — Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward and Seldovia — are given seats on the 11-member commission. Representatives from those communities rotate among four seats on the commission, with Soldotna next up in the rotation.

Traditionally, cities have advertised for their vacant seat on the commission, with applications forwarded to the city council for review. The council then compiles a list of recommendations to forward to the borough mayor, who then forwards his candidate of choice to the assembly for approval.

Under the policy proposed by the borough, that process would switch. The borough would advertise the city’s commission vacancy and the borough clerk would compose a list of applicants for the city council to choose from.

Soldotna received only one letter of interest to fill its seat — from Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings — after the City Clerk’s Office advertised the position, according to a June 9 memo from Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney to the Soldotna City Council. Her name was the only one forwarded by Soldotna to the borough for approval.

Farnsworth-Hutchings, who serves on the Soldotna City Council, ran against Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce last October in the borough mayoral race.

Alaska State Statute, which describes membership apportionment on the borough’s planning commission, says that in filling a city’s vacant seat on the commission, the borough mayor must pick someone to fill the vacancy from a “list of recommendations.” What constitutes a “list,” however, was debated at the borough assembly’s most recent meeting.

Assembly member Tyson Cox, who represents Soldotna, said that in providing a name, the city council fulfilled their responsibility. Pierce said that one name doesn’t constitute a “list of recommendations.” Pierce also said it’s ultimately his decision to appoint or not appoint someone recommended by the city council.

“That’s part of the prerogative I have as mayor,” Pierce said.

“I agree that it’s your prerogative, I just feel it’s a bit petty,” Cox said in response.

Pierce said that he doesn’t think he is being petty, but rather is “looking out for the best interest of the borough.”

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said during last week’s meeting of the Kenai City Council that if the change is codified by legislation passed by the borough assembly, he would recommend that the city council “speak against it strongly.”

Pierce said during the assembly’s Aug. 3 meeting that some cities select a candidate without advertising for the vacancy on the commission. Pierce also said that advertising city vacancies at the borough level would prevent discrimination against borough residents who want to fill the vacancy but may not see city advertisements.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Director Melanie Aeschliman echoed those comments on Monday and said some cities have not advertised for the position that was ending.

“We had seats being treated differently for city and at large (seats),” Aeschliman said. “Taking this process to the Clerk’s office will ensure all seats are treated the same.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said Monday that the ordinance with proposed changes to the process has not been finalized and is “being circulated internally for review.”

More information about the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission can be found at kpb.us/planning-dept/planning-home.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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