Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly participate in a meeting on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly participate in a meeting on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Tautfest appointed to borough planning commission

Her appointment caps a monthslong process to fill the vacancy

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members Tuesday filled the City of Soldotna’s seat on the borough’s planning commission, capping a monthslong back-and-forth that also resulted in changes to the commission’s appointment process.

Charlene Tautfest will represent the City of Soldotna on the 14-member commission, which 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.

Tautfest is the president of the Soldotna Rotary Club and has previously served on the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission, according to her application for the seat. In that application, Tautfest describes herself as “dependable” and “a quick learner” who works “well under pressure.”

Tautfest’s appointment marks the end of almost a year’s worth of efforts to fill the City of Soldotna’s seat on the body, which became vacant last June. Soldotna City Council member Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings was the only person to apply for the vacancy the first time the seat was advertised, and was subsequently recommended for the position four times by her fellow council members.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has pushed back against the city throughout the process, first claiming that the city did not follow Alaska state statute when it first forwarded Farnsworth-Hutchings’ name — state law requires a “list of recommendations” to be forwarded.

Pierce went on to suggest that insufficient advertising on the part of the city could explain low applicant turnout in continued advertisements for the vacancy. The mayor at one point said he would give Soldotna’s seat to Seldovia if they did not send more candidates and stated in a letter to Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney that he would “not be appointing” Farnsworth-Hutchings, who challenged Pierce in the 2017 and 2020 borough mayoral races, to the commission.

Early feuds between Pierce and the City of Soldotna prompted the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly to approve changes to the planning commission appointment process. Under changes approved in December, commission membership was bumped from 11 to 14 members, with each first-class and home-rule city guaranteed a seat. Previously, the five municipalities rotated among four seats. Also, the borough was given the authority to advertise for cities’ vacancies and a “list” was defined to be “at least one applicant.”

Assembly member Tyson Cox, who represents Soldotna on the borough assembly, praised Taufest’s appointment during a Tuesday meeting of the assembly’s policies and procedures committee.

“I’m glad there could be some sort of conclusion to that so … we can have some representation on the planning commission,” Cox said.

“I’ll ditto that,” Pierce replied.

Tautfest’s term will expire on July 31, 2024.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

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