On Tuesday, February 3, the city of Soldotna will hold a special election that could have a major impact on the city. But whether residents know what they are voting on, or are even aware of an election remains to be seen. Soldotna City Council members discussed voter education on Wednesday.
On Tuesday’s ballot, the question posed will read:
“Shall a charter commission be elected to prepare a proposed charter?”
If approved, members of the commission would also be elected.
A charter commission is a group of seven elected officials given the task of writing an official list of powers and duties of the city. If a charter commission is elected, they will then have one year to draw up the charter, and the public will then vote on it. If the voters reject the charter, Soldotna will remain a first class city, and many of the city’s powers will be determined by the borough or state. Should the charter pass, Soldotna would become home rule, giving the city more autonomy.
“(Home rule) just means that the city council and people who live in the city can make decisions that affect the city,” said council member Linda Murphy. “Those decisions will not be made by people living outside of the city limits. We get to choose our own destiny. That is what happens when you’re home rule.”
On Tuesday, the public will not be voting on whether Soldotna will be a home rule city; rather, whether a committee should form to make up a potential charter that would later be voted on.
Despite the importance of the election, some Soldotna citizens fear that the city’s population is insufficiently educated about what is being voted on. At the city council meeting on Wednesday, some, including Fred Sturman, were critical of how the city has prepared for the election.
“I think the city has done a pretty poor job of advertising,” Sturman said. “I’ve probably talked to at least 250 people, and I bet you 30 people know we’re going to have an election on the Feb. 3. That’s pretty poor.”
City council member Keith Baxter said he hopes 1,000 people will turn out on election day. He said the city council appropriated $5,000 to educate the public, which was used for advertisements on the radio and in newspapers.
Sturman said the money used to notify the public about the election wasn’t used efficiently.
“(The city of Soldotna) has had four months or five months and have spent $5,000 at least or more for what’s supposed to be education, and nobody knows nothing about it,” Sturman said.
Speaking to the city council, peninsula resident Daniel Lynch said he was upset that more advertisement wasn’t done months prior to the upcoming election.
City council member Linda Murphy agreed that not enough was done to educate the public.
She said most people are aware of general elections, but when it comes to a special election in winter, the city council could have done more.
“Maybe we should have gone a step further,” Murphy said. “We did everything we were required to do and a little more – we appropriated money to have some additional ads in the paper and radio spots – but people aren’t expecting an election in February.”
Murphy said that in hindsight, the city council should have spent money sending out mailers informing the public.
“It would have cost a little money, but I think that’s the price of democracy,” Murphy said.
City council member Meggean Bos said that the city should look into using new forms of media to educate the public. She said that she felt the information about what exactly is being voted on is not cut and dry.
“I feel like we, as a city, need to get with the times for people who use technology,” Bos said.
Council member Regina Daniels disagreed that the city hasn’t done enough.
“It’s hard to engage people in this community to really pay attention and I think we’ve put information out there,” Daniels said.
Voting will be held at Soldotna City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day.
Reach Ian Foley at Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org