The Homer City Council at its regular meeting on Monday blew a chance to stand up for transparency and fairness in government.
In a 3-3 vote, with council members Shelly Erickson, Heath Smith and Tom Stroozas voting no, the council failed to rescind Ordinance 19-09(S). They chose cold cash over courage, affirming a deal where a Kachemak City housing developer bought a Homer water hook-up for $100,000.
By not rescinding the ordinance, the council also didn’t discipline Homer Mayor Ken Castner for his failure to provide the council at its March 26 meeting with a letter he had received from Kachemak City Mayor William Overway on March 19 stating Kachemak City’s position on hooking up to Homer water service.
Council member Donna Aderhold tried a do-over when she introduced a motion to rescind. On Monday, Aderhold spoke about Castner knowingly withholding that letter.
“This was not his determination to make; the letter was addressed to the City of Homer,” she said. “Transparency, prudence and respect for the council would dictate that he present the letter for public discussion while we addressed the ordinance.”
For that reason alone, the council should have rescinded the ordinance. Aderhold also provided other grounds:
• Kachemak City code says that properties should be treated fairly and equitably, she said.
• The City of Homer also has policies that properties should be treated fairly and equitably.
• Aderhold said Castner, in his response letter to Overway, also coerced the Kachemak City Council into doing what he wanted them to do — write a letter of nonobjection to Ordinance 19-09(S). That’s using the authority of office to undly influence the decisions of others and a potential ethics violation, Aderhold claimed.
Despite these arguments, Erickson, Smith and Stroozas chose not to rescind the ordinance. Their best argument seemed to be that getting $100,000 out of a developer was a good deal for the city, so why not?
Why not? Despite a reputation in the 1990s when Homer allegedly made decisions at what former Mayor Harry Gregoire and others called “the downtown poker club,” the city has progressed. Thanks to honest government championed by Gregoire and leaders like Mayors Jack Cushing, James Hornaday, Beth Wythe and Bryan Zak and the councils that worked with them, we have developed a system of fairness. No one gets special deals. No one negotiates through back channels. Everything is done legally and with proper vetting by the council.
The ordinance to extend Homer water to the Kachemak City lot is a step backward. There can and should be an open discussion of how to equitably provide water service to the Kachemak City lots that border Homer’s waterline. That shouldn’t have been an ad-hoc deal with one landowner.
Monday night, the council dimmed the lights on democracy and opened up the city to corruption. It also took an action that could lead to lawsuits and ethics charges. The council had a chance to do the right thing, and when it came time to vote, three council members blinked. Council members Aderhold, Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti should be commended for trying to rescind a tainted action.
– Michael Armstrong, Editor