Chief on cannabis commission causes concern

A Homer City Council member has questioned the propriety of having the police chief sit as a member on a proposed nine-seat Cannabis Advisory Commission. 

At the council’s March 23 meeting, council member Beau Burgess introduced Ordinance 15-07 creating a Cannabis Advisory Commission, but he later criticized an amendment adding the police chief to the commission. Burgess said the city’s personnel code restricts city employees from being on commissions.

In the original version, Burgess had seven members on the commission, including two council members, the city manager and five citizen members. 

Council member Francie Roberts introduced an amendment removing the city manager and adding the police chief and a Homer Advisory Planning Commission member to the Cannabis Advisory Commission. Other amendments added a fifth citizen member and required four of the five citizen members to be city residents. All those amendments passed.

At the council meeting, Burgess tried to make the police chief an ex-officio, or nonvoting, member, but his amendment failed, with only Burgess and council member David Lewis voting for it. 

If the Cannabis Advisory Commission was going to be a body providing policy input, Burgess said he didn’t see why staff advice couldn’t come through council members. Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said she thought the commission needed a public safety perspective with the police chief.

After receiving a letter from a citizen saying having a paid city employee serve on a commission was a conflict of interest, Burgess questioned if a city employee could serve on a commission. 

He cited section 8.9.4, Political Activity, of city personnel regulations, which says an employee “may not … be a member of any policy making board, council, commission or other governing body that may be interpreted as representing the city and/or receiving appropriations from the city unless such membership is approved by the city manager.”

On most city committees or commissions, city officials participate as nonvoting members, but several committees have city officials as members. 

Finance director John Li and city clerk Jo Johnson both serve as members on the Permanent Fund Committee and Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins and City Planner Rick Abboud serve as members of the Lease Committee. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl and Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter also serve as members on the Public Safety Building Review Committee. All are voting members of the committees.

“Cannabis” is the generic name for all varieties of the plant that includes marijuana, the species that has a high content of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that causes marijuana’s high. Burgess amended the ordinance to change “marijuana” to “cannabis” to reflect that some activities regarding the plant might not have to do with high-THC strains, such as hemp.

Ordinance 15-07 passed introduction at its first reading on March 23, and the amended version goes up for a second reading and public hearing at the April 13 regular meeting starting at 6 p.m. in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall. The ordinance can be amended further at that meeting and goes up for a final vote approving or disapproving the new commission.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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