Assembly members Richard Derkevorkian (left) and Jesse Bjorkman consult during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara)

Assembly members Richard Derkevorkian (left) and Jesse Bjorkman consult during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara)

Borough seeks to fill planning commission vacancies

Two new commissioners took their seats for the Monday night meeting

Almost three months after sweeping changes were made to the borough’s planning commission, vacancies remain on the body. As of Monday, the 14-member body had three vacancies, with three additional vacancies filled in February.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission is responsible generally for the “systematic development and betterment” of the borough. The commission also has the approval and rejection authority over plots of land and can investigate public buildings or structures.

Two new commissioners took their seats for the Monday night meeting: Michael Horton in District 4-Soldotna and David Stutzer in District 8-Homer. John Hooper is scheduled to fill the District 3-Nikiski seat on March 21.

Other vacancies on the commission as of Monday included seats for the City of Soldotna, the City of Seward and the City of Seldovia. As of Feb. 10, no applications had been submitted for the City of Seward and the City of Seldovia seat, for which the borough is still soliciting applications. The Seldovia seat was among those newly added to the commission last December, while Seward’s seat became vacant when Cindy Ecklund was elected to the assembly.

The City of Soldotna’s vacancy on the commission has been the subject of a back-and-forth between the city and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

The borough received four applications for the City of Soldotna vacancy as of Feb. 10, according to records obtained by the Clarion. One application each was received from Soldotna City Council member Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney, Marvin St. Clair and Charlene Tautfest.

The Soldotna City Council has voted three times to recommend Farnsworth-Hutchings to the seat since it became open last June, but Pierce says the city didn’t follow the rules by submitting a “list of recommendations” as described by Alaska Statute.

Farnsworth-Hutchings, who also ran against Pierce in the 2017 and 2020 borough mayoral races, was the only candidate to apply for the seat when the vacancy was advertised the first time. Pierce suggested during the assembly’s Dec. 7 meeting that inconsistent advertising could be behind why so few applications were submitted.

The borough assembly approved sweeping changes to the planning commission during the Dec. 7 meeting that, among other things, clarified that a list can be of one name and said the borough can advertise for vacancies alongside cities.

The changes also bumped up total commission membership from 11 to 14. Now, each of the borough’s first-class and home-rule cities have designated seats in addition to single-member districts for the rest of the borough. City seats can only be represented by residents of that city.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Director Melanie Aeschliman said via email Monday that the borough forwarded the applications received for the City of Soldotna seat to Soldotna on Jan. 24 and the borough is now awaiting the city’s list for consideration by Pierce.

The assembly will consider at their March 1 meeting whether to approve legislation that would allow the planning commission to adopt bylaws and would define a quorum for the body. The bylaws would allow commissioners to adopt rules governing their affairs, while a quorum would be established as the majority of sitting commissioners. Hearings and decisions couldn’t be done in the absence of quorum under the legislation.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting will be available to stream live on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

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

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