“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I agree with the Kenai Council member who spoke in 1999 against amending Kenai’s Charter. Kenai is extremely fortunate to be a home rule city with a charter — our constitution — that gives us more autonomy in government, and more accountability to our citizens. Recently, Council voted 4-3 to put three Charter amendments on the 2015 ballot. Voters have asked why I voted NO. I believe these amendments are unnecessary, could be harmful, and are not in the best interests of Kenai.
Proposition 1 — Designated Seats. Just like most other Alaska home rule city charters, Kenai’s Charter provides for Council Members to be elected “at large,” so all candidates run together for two open seats. The top two vote-getters are elected. On this ballot, there are three candidates for these two “at large” Council seats, including me. Proposition 1 would create “designated seats” where voters would vote for one candidate for each seat, and the top vote getter for each “designated seat” would win.
Now, candidates must run on their merits to get elected “at large,” and there has been very little negative campaigning. On the other hand, political machines love “designated seats” because they can target candidates and run negative campaigns against them. Political machines can also discourage other candidates from running against their favored candidate.
With “designated seats,” a candidate with no challengers wouldn’t need to run for office, appear at candidate forums, or answer questions from voters. Kenai is a small town, and doesn’t need all the negatives that go with designated seats.
Proposition 2 — Cancel Council Meetings. Just like most other Alaska home rule cities, the Charter requires two Council meetings each month. Proposition 2 would allow the Mayor to cancel meetings for lack of a quorum, or for an emergency, or if a majority of council members agrees for any reason, as long as there are 20 regular meetings each year, at least one each month.
This amendment is not necessary: only one Council meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum in the last 10 years, and Council now has very liberal telephone participation rules. This amendment could also be harmful: for months with only one meeting, there can be only less citizen participation and less Council oversight of City business. Also, Council members would still get the same monthly stipend, for less work.
Proposition 3 — No Nominating Petition. Proposition 3 would remove the Charter requirement of a nominating petition with 20 Kenai registered voter signatures. This amendment is not necessary. The nominating petition makes a candidate talk to voters to ensure there is support for their candidacy, which I have always enjoyed doing; it hasn’t been a burden. The nominating petition process also discourages last minute dirty tricks and stealth candidates. People who want to run for office must openly gather signatures on their petition, so that people in our community know who wants to be a candidate.