Kenai to record work sessions

Kenai’s city government will now make audio and video recordings not only of official council meetings, but also the less-formal discussions called work sessions.

The Kenai City Council passed a resolution to do so — sponsored by council member Bob Molloy — at its Oct. 19 meeting, with opposing votes from council members Henry Knackstedt and Jim Glendening. Council member Tim Navarre was absent.

Kenai resident Bob McIntosh is an activist who runs the local political website Peninsula Town Crier and has twice run for the city council, citing openness and access issues — including the recording of work sessions — among his chief concerns.

“Everybody out there knows this is something I’ve been harping on for a couple of years, and I’m glad to see it come to light,” McIntosh said.

Though the city had no written policy on electronic recording of meetings, Kenai has usually recorded audio and video of the scheduled twice-monthly meetings of the city council and the planning and zoning commission. Members of both groups make legally-binding votes at these meetings, but meetings without binding votes — such as those of the city’s eight other commissions, whose members only make advisory votes, or work sessions, where no formal votes are taken — generally haven’t been recorded.

Instead, council members, commissioners, and administrators discuss specific issues at work sessions without taking official action. Informal decisions might be reached during these discussions, however, and council members can give direction to city officials during them. These meetings have so far gone unrecorded except in written summaries and minutes.

McIntosh and Molloy said they’ve sometimes been unable to find these written records when researching past city decisions. McIntosh said that even when written records exist, he’s found them uninformative.

“You find hearings, work sessions that have lasted three hours, and you get half a page of summary,” McIntosh said. “You don’t really know what happened.”

The resolution’s opponents said they sought to preserve the valuable informality of work session discussions. Knackstedt said he didn’t “think it’s in the process’s best interest to be recording (work sessions) for years down the road.”

“I recognize that at a council meeting we’re always a little more guarded because this is the official document, what we’re saying here and now at the dais,” Knackstedt said, referring to the platform council members sit on at meetings. “… Having said that, the work sessions are typically — well, they’re not held to the same standard as far as the rules of discussion. Through the process of having the discussion informally, I would hope that we would be thinking freely. Sometimes when you’re thinking outside the box, you don’t necessarily say things that are your opinion — it might be more of a question. I believe that in a recording, if you just take an excerpt of a work session it could be taken way out of context, more so than here at the dais in our official meeting. I think it’s important for work sessions not to be intimidated, to be able to speak quite freely through the process.”

Glendening agreed.

“We’re not coming to conclusions, we’re not deciding anything,” Glendening said. “We’re just trying to get a taste and a feel of what the issue is. From there we would digest that, then render our decision when we come into session. I think for the free flow of information and for the interchange that I’ve seen in work sessions, I think not recording and just having conversations, having the due diligence of our clerk record the theme and theory of the issue, I think that will be sufficient.”

The resolution passed with one amendment, made by Molloy with unanimous agreement, to state that work sessions held outdoors “may not be recorded if not practicable.”

The new policy requires the city clerk to retain electronic records of council meetings and work sessions for six years, and excepts executive sessions and employee candidate interviews. Specifics of the policy — such as whether work session recordings will include both video and audio — will be up to Kenai administrators, Molloy said.

In response to a question from council member Glenese Pettey, Kenai clerk Jamie Heinz said additional recordings wouldn’t be a significant expense for her office, which has most of the needed equipment.

“We might spend an extra $1,000 – $2,000 on adding a few things or upgrading a few things, but those would be incorporated into what’s already in the clerk’s office budget,” Heinz said.

Though it applies only to work sessions including the city council, Molloy wrote in a memo that recording Kenai’s committees and commissions could be the subject of a future policy.

Wednesday’s city council meeting was also the first at which members of the public could make online comments on the items of the twice-monthly meeting agendas, in addition to giving in-person public comments at meetings. The city’s new comment system uses the same provider — Granicus — as the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s website, so those registered as commenters on the borough site will be able to log on to the Kenai site without a new user name and password. Comments will be open on each council agenda up to 3 p.m on the Wednesday of the meeting.

“That should be more convenient for the public to weigh in on certain issues,” Gabriel said.

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

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read