Home-rule commission hopefuls get signatures

With two months until the deadline, six city residents are gathering signatures to become candidates to serve on a one-year commission to draft a charter making Homer a home-rule city.

To be placed on the Oct. 7 ballot, each candidate must gather the signatures of 50 registered city voters. The deadline is 5 p.m. July 15.

As it stands, however, the effort is one candidate short.

“We need seven commissioners on the ballot,” said Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson. “If we don’t get (seven), then the initiative for the charter commission does not go forward.”

Candidates must have been registered voters in the city since Oct. 7, 2013, one year prior to the election.

The six individuals currently gathering signatures to be placed on the ballot include:

• Beth Wythe, mayor, city of Homer;

• Beauregard “Beau” Burgess, Homer City Council member;

• Doug Stark, former city council member;

• Lindianne Sarno, musician;

• Ken Castner, home rule promoter; and

• Marilyn Hueper, inn and spa owner.

Hueper’s husband, Paul, may be the needed seventh candidate, he told the Homer News on Tuesday.

“I’m a little behind the curve, but I plan to take out a booklet,” Hueper said.

In January, Castner and Ginny Espenshade completed the first step to turn Homer into a home-rule city by submitting a petition with the required 185 signatures of city residents, 15 percent of voters in the Oct. 1 election, interested in exploring the benefits of home rule for Homer.

Castner said at the time he took on the effort because it would mean “that we can write our own constitution, establish how we operate as a city, how our government operates, how we cooperate with nongovernment operations.”

Espenshade said gathering signatures for the initial petition sparked conversations about what home-rule would mean for the city.

“Discussing about whether or not this would be a good process, we can identify some of the issues propelling it and if there are other ways to make the public feel more listened it,” Espenshade said then.

The next step is the petition effort currently underway to identify seven commissioner candidates.

From an academic sense, Wythe said she is currently working on a master’s degree in public administration and felt like participating in the home-rule effort would be “an interesting practice.”

“From a practical sense, locally, you get the sense a lot of people have issues with the city, so the process of trying to resolve those issues through developing home rule is like the baby and the bathwater. I’d like to contribute with whatever information I might provide that would keep something important from getting tossed out with other things less important,” said Wythe, who is still collecting her 50 signatures.

Unsure she favors the concept of home rule, Wythe said, “If we’re able to consider all the aspects of it and don’t lose anything in the translation. It’ll be fine. We just can’t give up things we do have with the existing organization that are working in order to get things that aren’t working fixed.”

Burgess said he was interested in serving on the commission in order to ensure a broad view was represented.

“Most people, like myself, don’t fully understand why being home-rule is so important,” said Burgess. “Essentially, being a home-rule city would transfer more powers currently reserved for the borough or state to the city. … I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best way to give people a larger voice in government.”

He anticipated having no problem meeting the 50-signature requirement.

“I might be past that already,” said Burgess.

With regard to the mayor and council member running as commission candidates, Johnson said the city attorney, Thomas Klinkner, provided a 1988 attorney general’s opinion stating charter commission candidates are not required to file a conflict of interest statement.

Stark, a former city council member, said he has “substantial experience in local government and in types of local government. … I think I can help. I think I can be a resource.”

He said he has more than 50 signatures, but needs to ensure they are registered voters.

“There’s not much wrong with our system right now, but I think we can make it a little better,” said Stark. 

The option of home rule first became available with statehood in 1959. Under Alaska law, first-class cities may adopt home rule charters. The Local Boundary Commission listed the following home rule cities in Alaska: Cordova, Fairbanks, Kenai, Ketchikan, Nenana, North Pole, Palmer, Petersburg, Seward, Valdez and Wrangell. There also are eight home rule boroughs in the state.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.