An ordinance that would change the way the city council members are elected was rejected 4-3 during the June 14 Homer City Council meeting. With the council members’ votes split 3-3, Homer Mayor Ken Castner broke the tie in opposition of the ordinance. Council members Heath Smith, Storm Hansen-Cavasos and Joey Evensen voted in favor while council members Rachel Lord, Caroline Venuti and Donna Aderhold opposed the ordinance.
Castner said that until the vote was taken, he was unsure as to if he was going to break the tie, considering previous statements he’d made that he would leave decisions to the city council.
“Now you’re all wondering is he going to vote and break this tie, and I don’t know,” Castner told the council. “I’m tempted, but I also like it when you six figure things out on your own.”
However, when time came, Castner voted against it, but expressed his hope that the council would continue discussions concerning the topic.
Council members Smith and Hansen-Cavasos sponsored the ordinance, and had it been passed, it would have designated specific seats for which candidates would run and the percentage of votes required to earn the seat. The pair introduced the ordinance as a way to discourage voters from voting for only one candidate in the election cycle and provide an equal opportunity for candidates running for the two individual seats.
“A fair vote is a vote that represents the same percentage in relationship to any other vote that is cast to elect somebody. If you withdraw a vote, then you enhance the percentage that that one vote represents in relationship to all of the people that voted twice, and I think that’s wrong,” Smith said. “I would rather that what we do as a city is encourage people to go to the ballot and use every vote afforded to them, and that one vote does not negatively or positively affect itself or others. It stands on its own, and it speaks for itself in relationship to the seat that it is being cast to fill for the candidate of their choice.”
“I have come to detest more and more that idea that we can manipulate vote values, and I just don’t think that has a place in our elections,” Smith continued.
Council member Lord disputed Smith’s defense of the legislation, saying the ordinance seemed to benefit the candidates running for election more than the people voting for their council membership. She voiced her concern that if the two candidates she wanted elected were running for the same seat on council, how would this ordinance benefit her as a voter?
“I think the strategy laid forth within this ordinance feels like a better strategy directed toward candidates and potential candidates than voters,” Lord said. “Heath gave an example of two people who may have very similar leanings, but as a voter, it’s a small town, and I might have opinions about one person that I want to see at that table and not the other. Taking away my ability to say ‘I actually want these two people, but they’re running for the same seat,’ that doesn’t serve me as a voter. It takes away an element of choice to say that that’s what I want.”
Council member Venuti agreed with Lord’s reasoning and even cited how the city of Nome has a similar election process to what Smith and Hansen-Cavasos proposed, but stated the city is in the process of trying to change their election because of how dissatisfied they are with it. Ultimately, Venuti said the way elections work in Homer made sense to her.
“I believe our elections in Homer are run fairly, and this would just be a decisive mistake for us to do,” Venuti said.
After listening to the council’s differing opinions on the matter, Hansen-Cavasos voiced her confusion as to why the others were not interested in the ordinance, stating she never meant for the proposal to cause so much division within the council.
“I didn’t consider it a source of contention and to cause more strife in the community to have voting be this way,” Hansen-Cavasos said. “…There were some council members when I ran that maybe I didn’t want to run against and I would have loved to have served with them, but that wasn’t really an option. That was why I was enticed by this and decided to join Heath in this endeavor.”
Council member Aderhold expressed her concerns of an unbalanced election in case only one candidate runs for one seat and two run for another, stating the potential issue was not addressed in the ordinance.
“Another concern I have with designated seats is sometimes we have three people file to run for two seats. That basically means that one person is allowed to just walk on while the other two candidates are having to compete,” Aderhold said. She read from a letter sent by city clerk Melissa Jacobsen asking what happens if the unopposed candidate is an unpopular choice who receives few votes? “We haven’t addressed that in this ordinance.”
Aderhold did say she would support a future ordinance similar to 21-29 if a community group were to evaluate the current election process and determine if there is a better voting method for Homer that better reflects the community. Aderhold’s proposal suggested the voters decide what election process to use that best serves the needs of the community.
“In this case, I feel like this really needs to be from the voters. As an elected official, it doesn’t feel fair to me to be telling voters what voting system we’re going to use,” Aderhold said. “So I would certainly support a next step, but I am not going to support the ordinance as it is right now.”
While the council rejected the ordinance as written, the council said they would continue discussions concerning the issue in the future and enjoyed the debate.
The council also passed the substitution to Ordinance 21-30 to transfer account allowances within Fund 156, Capital Asset Repair and Maintenance Fund. Also passed were Ordinance 21-31(S), which removes the Homer water and sewer program funding from the special utility fund and created a new fund, and Ordinance 21-32, which appropriates funds for the fiscal year 2022-23 for the General Fund, Water Fund, Sewer Fund, Port/Harbor Fund and Internal Service Funds. No amendments were made to the proposed budget, and the final hearing will be held on June 28 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.
For more information about the meeting or to read the ordinances, visit https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-240.
The meetings will resume in person at the City Hall Cowles Council Chambers once current renovations are concluded.
The next city council regular meeting will be held at 6 p.m. June 28.
Reach Sarah Knapp at email@example.com.