Will home rule mean better government?

For some longtime Homer residents, the current discussion on whether Homer should change from a first-class to a home-rule city might seem like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.

Homer was just 11 years old as an incorporated city when residents had their first discussion of the issue, which ultimately ended in defeat of a charter in 1977, two years after the discussion began. 

Now as Homer approaches its 50th birthday next year, it’s safe to say times have changed. There are a lot more people who call Homer home. The city and city government have matured. Life’s a little — some would say a lot — more complicated. All of which could mean it’s perfect timing to consider this issue anew. Or not.

Right now there are more questions than answers about whether moving to a home-rule city would be a good thing for residents, which makes the issue great fodder for debate as residents huddle up for the winter. As the home-rule conversation continues and people sign petitions to start the process, here are some of the questions that deserve clear answers:

• What’s driving the desire for change? If people feel disenfranchised from local government, will a change in the city’s status help them feel more connected? How?

• What exactly is the ailment that needs a cure? If people feel mistreated by the current city government, is a switch to home rule the best medicine? Are there other solutions that should be considered?

• Are supporters hoping the end result will be a strong mayor form of government, instead of the current strong manager form? If so, they should say so plainly. How will that change better serve the public?

• If a more involved citizenry is the goal, how will a switch to home rule make that happen? Our observation is most people are so busy with the basics — making a living, taking care of their families — they don’t have the spare time to devote to things that seem rather esoteric — like creating a new city government.

• Are there specific instances that supporters can point to in existing home-rule cities — for example, Kenai and Seward — that clearly illustrate why a change to home rule would be in the best interests of the citizens of Homer?

• From our perspective, the most important question to answer is: How will a change lead to better government? Supporters of the switch would help their cause by giving examples from other communities where home-rule status has meant residents are better served and represented by their government.

There’s nothing wrong with a giving a fresh look to how we’re doing as a city, but we also shouldn’t ignore the advice of those who have traveled this path before and warn: Proceed with great caution.

Our wintertime discussions should include a look at other options, too. If a better informed, more involved citizenry is the goal, why not consider Homer City Council member Barbara Howard’s suggestion of a “citizens academy,” in which people could learn about local government department by department. During the fall elections, one candidate for city council also brought up the idea of getting students more involved in city government while they were still in high school and could discover early on how they can make a difference. Both are worthy ideas.

In the meantime, let the conversation continue.