The Kenai City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to allow telephonic participation for the Planning and Zoning Commission, but not before one amendment vote hung in the balance on a disconnected call Wednesday night.
With council members Mike Boyle and Tim Navarre participating telephonically at Wednesday’s city council meeting, an amendment proposed by council member Robert Molloy to reduce the number of call-ins commissioners could make be reduced from four to two in a calendar year was up for a vote. The verdict was split 3 to 3 when Vice-Mayor Ryan Marquis asked for Boyle’s vote.
No answer. Boyle’s call had been dropped and the council took a slight recess until he called back.
“You are the swing vote,” Marquis said.
Boyle voted yes and the amendment passed, 4-3. The council approved all four amendments, two suggested by Mayor Pat Porter and the other two by Molloy. The council unanimously passed the ordinance, after more than three months of it being on their agenda.
The ordinance was postponed at the Feb. 19 meeting so amendments proposed by Molloy could be finalized. At that meeting, Porter and Navarre participated telephonically and Porter motioned to delay the vote so she could review the amendments in person.
On Wednesday, Porter passed the gavel over to vice-mayor Marquis so she could make two amendments to the ordinance. The first requiring a quorum of four commissioners always to be present at each meeting. The other being when the commission act as a quasi-judicial body making decisions on conditional use permits, only people present could vote.
Molloy said the mayor made a good compromise with her amendments. He said he originally did not support the ordinance because the commission used the same template for the city council on telephonic participation and he does not see the two bodies as functioning the same way.
“It is like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “Council meets 35 times a year while planning and zoning meets 17 times.”
He said his reasoning for limiting the number of times a commissioner could call in from four to two was because based on how many times council meets, that would mean council members could participate telephonically eight times a year, instead of four the current limit.
“The expectations of the public are they want their representatives to be there in person,” he said. “I dislike being on the phone just because connections are bad and like we saw tonight, in the middle of a vote someone participating telephonically got disconnected.”
Porter and council members Brian Gabriel and Navarre voted against Molloy’s amendment.
Navarre said he did not support the reduction because he believed participating over the phone still makes the product better and allows commissioners who may not be able to attend in person a chance to still provide information.
“We need to allow them the opportunity to make the best informed decision,” he said. “Two is too limited. You never know if you will have a better product if you don’t have everyone participating.”
Porter and Gabriel agreed keeping the limit at four was fair and did not think it would be abused.
Because the commission meets twice a month more than other city committees, Porter said she wanted to give them the support they need to effectively do their job.
“If it doesn’t work, we can fix it,” she said.
Kenai City Council and commission members have discussed the ordinance since it was introduced and failed at the Jan. 8 commission meeting. The commission made amendments following suggestions from council and unanimously passed the resolution at its Feb. 12 meeting.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Henry Knackstedt was in attendance at the council meeting Wednesday night.
He said he agreed with the amendments made by council and is happy to see the issue resolved.
At the Feb. 19 council meeting, commission chair Jeff Twait, said a member of the commission, who has since resigned, introduced the telephonic participation resolution because he wanted to ease the burden of service while still not disrupt the process.
After the resignation of committee member Jake Arness, the Planning and Zoning Commisison has a vacancy.
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com