Commission argues status quo for Soldotna home rule

Under the draft home-rule charter being formed by Soldotna’s charter commission, the structure and duties of the mayor, council and city clerk would remain the same.

Those were topics of some debate at the commission’s Thursday meeting, at which it reviewed the charter’s preamble and first four articles and gave recommendations for what it would like included in the draft charter it will eventually approve.

The commission is scheduled to meet weekly into August, when it plans to hold a public hearing for the draft charter. Vice Chair Linda Hutchings said commission members are confident they can have the draft ready by then due to the frequency of their meetings. They don’t aim to make any huge changes to the existing charter, but there are a few things that need to be addressed, she said.

One of those was the structure and function of the city mayor and council. Currently, Soldotna operates with six elected council members and a mayor who does not vote expect to break ties. Commission members had the option to change that to the way Kenai and several other communities in the state operate — with the mayor serving as a seventh member with the normal voting powers of a council member.

“I know that there are a number of home rule communities where the mayor is a full member of the council without veto power,” said commission member Linda Murphy. “Personally I would like to see us adopt that version of how our city would run. I think that we’re a small enough town that the mayor should be a fully functioning member of the council and discuss and vote on every item.”

Having a voting mayor would also help in situations when some council members are absent and getting the required four votes for a measure could be more easily disrupted by one or two members, Murphy said.

Generally, when a mayor is given regular voting power, he or she is no longer given the power to veto, Murphy said. Some commission members worried about regular voting power giving a strong mayor the potential to steer the council, and the repercussions of having a regularly voting mayor who could no longer break ties, since measures that end in a tied vote are killed.

Hutchings also voiced concern that making too many changes to the existing charter could make the public less likely to approve it.

“Do we want to make a bunch of changes like this which is going to put people off voting for this?” she asked. “We want to make it as close to what we have, as we have right now.”

Ultimately, the commission voted to keep the mayor and council structure the way it is in the current charter.

Another topic of some debate was the position of city clerk. Soldotna’s city manager position currently has the duty of appointing city employees including the city clerk, but other cities in the state function with a city clerk appointed by the council. Murphy suggested this system might be better for avoiding a potential situation in which a city manager might want to get things done “expeditiously,” and would provide a better balance of power.

Again, the commission decided to keep to the status quo when it comes to the city clerk for the draft charter. The other articles were recommended as is without much debate, Hutchings said.

Commissioners discuss aspects of the draft charter at each meeting. Based on their recommendations, Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner puts together the draft wording, which gets reviewed at the next meeting, she told commission members, and eventually approved when the draft is finished.

At its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30, the charter commission will go over articles four through eight, Hutchings said. The commission meets in Soldotna City Hall.


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