Kenai to record all meetings related to comprehensive plan revision

When Kenai city government groups discuss their upcoming comprehensive plan revisions, audio recordings of their meetings will be accessible on the city website for two years. At their Wednesday meeting, the council voted 3-2 for the recording requirement, with council member Henry Knackstedt and Kenai Mayor Pat Porter voting against. Council members Tim Navarre and Mike Boyle were absent.

The discussion on the recording proposal was put on the agenda by council member Bob Molloy, who also made the motion for the vote. The proposal was originally suggested by Kenai resident Bob Macintosh in a Feb. 1 email to city clerk Sandra Modigh.

According to an email from Modigh to Macintosh, Kenai retains audio recordings of all commission and committee meetings for two years, except for audio of Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, which are retained for six years because of “the body’s adjudicatory responsibilities,” Modigh wrote. The planning and zoning commission is the only body other than the council that can make legal decisions — other commissions and committees only vote whether or not to recommend an action to the council.

However, council and commission work sessions are different than regular meetings. They are sessions in which group members discuss a specific issue without passing a vote or making a formal decision. Prior to the new requirement, Kenai did not make or publish electronic recordings of work session meetings.

“Just because ‘no action is taken at these meetings’ does not mean the meetings should not be recorded,” Macintosh wrote in his proposal, distributed at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting. “Future reference to actions in these meetings can have light shed on the actual meaning and intent of the outcome of these meetings by the discussion that took place.”

Macintosh said there is insufficient record of past work sessions. He gave as an example a council work session on the comprehensive plan held March 29, 2013, which lasted 3 hours and is represented in Kenai’s online database by a single-page document listing the time, place, officials present, and a statement that the comprehensive plan “was reviewed by sections and Council provided an opportunity for public comments and suggestions on each chapter.”

The 2013 comprehensive plan, a document meant to direct future city land-use decisions, was rejected by Kenai voters in a ballot proposal that year. At a Jan. 6 meeting, the council voted to use it as a draft for a new comprehensive plan revision.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Knackstedt said work sessions are informal and less orderly than a council or commission meeting. In more formal meetings, each group member must be addressed by the chair before talking and speakers from the public address the group from a microphoned podium after stating their names. Knacksted said that without these formalities, speakers in a work session recording might not be identifiable.

“I’m not sure that listening to a recording, you’d get the full information of what’s being said,” Knackstedt said. “And the purpose of a work session is that it allows some brainstorming, and people are not formally discussing things, and it might not be real explicit like a final determination. … I think that it just allows more open discussion, and it be might misinterpreted if you can’t read or hear all the things being said. It might be taken out of context.”

Porter agreed with Knackstedt’s doubts.

“Unless you’re planning to make our work sessions more formal, where individuals will have to come and speak into a microphone with a lot of background noise, I just don’t see the benefit,” Porter said. “It’s not that it’s not a benefit, but I find it very cumbersome. … People just talk from the back of the audience, and our council’s just as guilty, and I don’t know where we’d put that microphone.”

Council member Brian Gabriel also had doubts about the listenability of recordings, but said he “had no problem with moving forward and trying this out.”

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch recommended recording and said he had planned himself to make recordings of other informal meetings, such as town halls, regarding the comprehensive plan.

“We’ve had the comp plan hanging around for some time now,” Koch said. “It’s certainly a divisive issue. I think providing recordings would eliminate some amount of that divisiveness. … I think it peels away one issue of conflict and divisiveness in the process, and there’s certainly value in that to the administration.”

After the measure passed, Porter said she planned to conduct any future work sessions she may preside over “as if they were a city council meeting.”

“People will have to come up and speak into the microphone,” Porter said. “That way everything’s recorded and we don’t have to stop and go around to the individuals.”

Clerk Sandra Modigh said that during work sessions she intended to have several microphones throughout the room for individuals to speak into.

At the Wednesday meeting, Kenai Council members also voted unanimously to award a $116,745.60 construction contract to Big Mike’s construction company to build an access road to the Kenai River mouth’s south beach. Big Mike’s was the lowest of 14 bidders for the project.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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