Assembly delays action on ordinance that would overturn term limits

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on July 2 delayed action on two items in order to rethink its actions before going forward.

The assembly put off voting on an ordinance seeking to overturn term limits imposed by a citizen initiative and moved to reopen public comment on a resolution calling for a public advisory vote on continued borough financial support for public transportation.

Both will occur during the Aug. 6 regular assembly meeting. The items suffered from a lack of public attention during the June 18 meeting, most of which focused on the hundred people who testified on the anadromous streams ordinance.

On July 2, following the final vote on the streams issue, District 9 Assemblyman Mako Haggerty called term limits an automated “reduction of choice.” He said it’s one that he does not support.

Soldotna resident Irv Carlisle summed up public opinion on the matter saying that the real issue behind the move to repeal term limits, after three consecutive public votes favoring them by a large margin, is the process in which the assembly is going about it. As an assembly ordinance, the repeal would be done with nine elected votes trumping more than 14,000 citizen votes for term limits, he said.

“Put it to a vote (of the people),” said Carlisle who noted he had faith in the election process.

Nikiski resident Fred Braun said he was against long-term incumbency that becomes possible without term limits.

“The voters prefer limits which increase competition and decrease seniority and breaks ties to special interests.” Braun said. “(People) vote on principle rather than back scratching.”

Howard Merchant of Soldotna also believes that term limits keep fresh those serving at the will of the people by fostering competition for office without imbedded politicians.

“If you’re going to change it, it should be done by a vote of the people. Not a vote of the assembly,” Merchant said.

“The voters have spoken,” said Michele Hartline of Nikiski. “Regardless of which side you’re on on this issue, this is not the right process.”

Fred Sturman, a recent mayoral candidate and one of those behind the term limits initiatives in the last 15 years, encouraged the assembly to do as the people did when they brought term limits to the ballot. It’s the only way to justify it, he said.

“Put your 100 bucks up and get your 2,000 signatures and we’ll put it on the ballot,” he said.

District 2 Assemblyman and ordinance sponsor Hal Smalley criticized the testimony of those favoring term limits saying that no other office faces term limits like Borough Assembly.

“Don’t pick on one legislative body because you have issues with someone up here,” Smalley said before criticizing voter turnout during the last election in which term limits won. Smalley also noted that the margin by which term limits have won keeps shrinking each time it goes before the people.

Before the vote to postpone, one after another assembly member that personally opposes term limits said that they would not vote for the repeal.

“Voters asked for it,” said District 7 Assemblyman Brent Johnson.

“The voters should speak at the ballot box,” said District 8 Assemblyman Bill Smith, who also vowed to not vote for the repeal.

District 9 Assemblyman Mako Haggerty said he’s always been vocal about his opposition to limits. The public assumption is that members of the assembly are doing it for themselves and with the wrong intentions. 

“I’m going to vote against,” Haggerty said. “The people voted, so it will stand.”

Noting his surprise that fellow assembly members were going to vote along with public opinion, District 1 assemblyman Kelly Wolf said, “I thought there were enough votes.”

Wolf and fellow assembly member Charlie Pierce, District 5, opposed repeal from its introduction in early June. 

“I’d like to kill this rat,” Wolf said.

“I would like to vote on the original,” Pierce said.

Seeing the possible death of the term limits repeal if voted on Tuesday, its supporters moved to postpone action and floated an idea to amend the ordinance to three terms from two. The vote was 6-3, with Wolf, Pierce and District 3 assemblyman Ray Tauriainen voting against the delay.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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