Serving on the Homer City Council this past year has been a fascinating and humbling experience. There has been so much to learn about municipal budgets, planning, zoning, water and sewer, sidewalks and, probably most importantly, procedure: how to get things done. Progress has been slow, but it’s been steady.
In Homer we are very fortunate to have a mayor whose first-hand experience with the city’s most important public works projects goes back decades, and who draws on that encyclopedic knowledge to tirelessly promote the interests of the city. We also have a city manager who is highly competent, organized and focused – and skilled at bringing his talented department heads and their outstanding staff together to collaborate on solving challenges.
One of the biggest surprises of service on the council has been how little capacity to bring about change any one councilmember has.
In most positions, even in government, one individual can effect real, meaningful change through hard work and focus. On the council, you can’t accomplish anything unless three of your six colleagues support you – and in Alaska there is a law, the Open Meetings Act, that prohibits you from talking to more than two of them about any substantive matter outside of a formally noticed public meeting.
This is great for government transparency, but because a public meeting is not the easiest place to brainstorm and tentatively explore new territory, it can also make it difficult to find common ground on complex or controversial topics. That’s probably why state legislators chose to exempt themselves from this law when enacting it.
One of the best things about city council is how infrequently the big state and national political divides come into play. In my year on the council I have frequently teamed up to move good ideas forward with folks who would likely sit “across the aisle” from me if we were in a state or national legislative body. On the city council dais there is no aisle, and during my year at least, it has been only rarely if at all that we have failed to find an approach that allows ordinances or resolutions to move forward with unanimity.
This year’s municipal elections are less than a week away. In addition to the vote for city council, where five candidates are vying for two seats, there are at least two important borough-level matters to decide: whether to approve a large bond to improve Kenai Peninsula schools, including some in Homer; and whether to expand the number of borough assembly representatives from 9 to 11. In-person absentee voting is already underway at city hall, and I hope you will find the time to get out and vote between now and Tuesday, Oct. 4.