While the Oct. 7 municipal election has several Kenai Peninsula Borough propositions, there is only one on the city of Homer ballot: Shall a charter commission be elected to prepare a proposed charter?
A “no” vote puts a stop to the process; a “yes” vote opens the door to new possibilities for Homer, currently a first-class city.
“Homer would have greater powers if it becomes a home-rule city, subject to the limitations of AS.29.10.200,” said Brent Williams of the Local Boundary Commission.
According to Alaska Statute, general law municipalities — which include first- and second-class cities — are municipal corporations and political subdivisions and unchartered boroughs or cities and have legislative powers conferred by law. Home-rule cities, have “all legislative powers not prohibited by law or charter,” according to Alaska Statute 29.04.010.
Increased interaction between Homer residents and city government was what Homer resident Ken Castner had in mind when he announced a year ago plans to offer city residents the opportunity to become a home-rule city.
“What ‘home rule’ means is that we can write our own constitution, establish how we operate as a city, how our government operates, how we cooperate with nongovernment operations,” Castner told the Homer City Council at its Oct. 28, 2013, meeting. “I’m not a big believer that government is designed to do everything, but that government should act in a cooperative manner. A constitution would open up new pathways for the citizenry to feel more enfranchised with government.”
If the “yes” votes outweigh the “no” votes on Oct. 7, the next step is immediate and provided for on the ballot: selecting seven individuals to serve on a commission that would prepare a proposed charter.
Seven individuals, the minimum required by law, have navigated the petition process to put their names on the ballot (related bios and candidate statements will run in next week’s Homer News):
• Ken Castner;
• Jonathan Faulkner;
• Marilyn Hueper;
• Paul Hueper;
• Lindianne Sarno;
• Doug Stark;
• Beth Wythe.
“Plus there is a write-in available for each one,” said Jo Johnson, Homer city clerk.
With only seven names on the ballot, what would happen is one of those candidates chose to not serve on the commission?
“The statutes do not address that possibility,” said Williams.
Following the Oct. 7 election, the newly elected seven-member commission organizes “immediately” and has a year to prepare a proposed charter and file it with the city clerk. While statute is not specific about the meaning of “immediately,” Williams said he would think it meant once the vote is certified. With the municipal election occurring Oct. 7, the canvass board meets Oct. 10 and election results are certified by the city council at its regular meeting on Oct. 13, according to Johnson.
Prior to filing the charter with the clerk, the commission is required to provide a published notice and hold at least one public hearing on the charter. Once that is done, the charter is signed by a majority of the commission members and then filed with the city clerk. The clerk has 15 days to publish the charter and make copies available.
The next step is a charter election, which occurs 30-90 days after the proposed charter is published by the clerk.
“If there is not another election scheduled in that timeframe, then it is reasonable to infer that there would have to be a special election,” said Williams.
If voters at that time approve the charter, it becomes Homer’s constitution, is recognized by the court and the new home-rule municipality of Homer would file copies of the voter-approved charter with the lieutenant governor; the Alaska Department Commerce, Community and Economic Development; the district recorder; and the city clerk.
If voters reject the charter, the commission has another year to prepare a second proposed charter to be submitted before voters. If that proposed charter is rejected, the commission is dissolved and the question of adopting a charter “shall be treated as if it had never been proposed or approved,” according to AS 29.10.090.
During a recent meeting of the city council, the question was raised about the level of support the city is required to provide the charter commission.
“The statutes do not specifically address any city obligation,” said Williams. “Alaska Statute 29.10.070 states that there must be one election on whether to have a charter commission and to elect its members, and a second election on the proposed charter. It is reasonable to infer that the city must hold those elections.”
Alaska has 10 home-rule cities, including Nenana, a former first-class city, according to Williams. They include:
• The town of Cordova formulated a new city charter in 1960 to replace the one granted by the federal government;
• The city of Fairbanks became a home rule city in 1961;
• The city of Kenai became a home-rule city in 1963;
• The city of Ketchikan became a home-rule city in 1960;
• The city of Kodiak became a home-rule city in 1965;
• The first-class city of Nenana that became a home-rule city in 1982;
• The city of North Pole that became a home-rule city in 1970;
• The city of Palmer that became a home-rule city in 1962;
• The city of Seward that became a home rule city in 1960;
• The town of Valdez that became a home-rule city in 1961.
“Despite diligent searching, it was difficult to ascertain the status of all of the municipalities before they became home-rule cities,” said Williams. “In addition, some cities that dissolved and became part of boroughs might have previously become home-rule cities.”
Homer’s first consideration of becoming a home-rule city occurred almost 40 years ago. In October 1975, voters agreed to form a charter commission. The draft charter was published in September 1976, and rejected by voters a month later. A re-write was published in July 1977. It was rejected by voters in August 1977.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.