Writing new city charter opens whole world of possibilities

“We the people of Homer, Alaska, having chosen to settle amongst the beauty and bounty of Kachemak Bay, establish this charter from which our governance shall be determined, and our rights as its citizens shall be protected.” 

That could be the preamble to the city constitution that I would like to see written and presented to the voters for their consideration. It establishes the source of political power; it states our sense of place; it establishes a balance between the obligations of community while preserving the rights of the individual. 

I’m Ken Castner, and I have been a leader in the effort to become a Home Rule city. This essay is to briefly explain why. 

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska reads: “Source of Government  —  All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded on their will only, and  is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.” 

The City of Homer, like most but not all of Alaska’s municipalities, operates under the prescriptions of the state’s Title 29, which covers municipal government in general.  The alternative is becoming a home rule city, which would allow us to create a governmental structure and body of law more specifically attuned to the needs and desires of Homer residents. We have before us an opportunity to create a more participatory,  citizen-centered Homer. 

There are so many great things about Homer and the people who live here and contribute so much. Now that we’re 50 years from the city’s establishment, it is a great time to evaluate what works well, as many things now do, and what might be done differently to direct our community into the next half-century and beyond. I believe that thoughtful change can bring us back into the spirit of self-determination and a government maximally responsive to our citizens. We can close the divide that now is too wide  between the people and its government. 

A commission elected to create a home rule charter is akin to the group of state citizens who drew up our state constitution. I would anticipate lively debates, inclusiveness of all viewpoints, exciting fresh ideas, and responsiveness to the challenges before us. 

Through the writing of a new charter, we can clearly establish our own community values, which will be the basis for city decision-making and  spending. 

Those who know me know I’ve had my own “issues” with the city. As a long-time resident who doesn’t plan on leaving, I’d like to see the city live up to its potential. I don’t expect a home rule charter to be a complete answer to our individual and collective problems, but it can definitely lay out a framework for bringing our values and needs to the  forefront. The charter would become the basis for addressing priority problems and funding priority needs, as determined by our citizens.   

Collective problems such as the handling of storm water (now an individual problem neighbors pass to downslope neighbors) and the flushing of treated water into the bay (with its enormous waste and expense) might then be  treated as the priorities they are for community well-being. 

If any of this resonates with you, please go to City Hall and get a petition to run as a charter commissioner. Each person willing to take an important citizenship role has until July 15 to gather 50 signatures of registered voters to appear on the ballot for election to the commission. I would love  to see far more than the minimum seven compete for this privilege. I believe the time is right for building a community constitution — which would then come back to the voters for their decision on whether to adopt. 

Ken Castner has led the discussion about creating a home-rule city.