Point of View: Is it time for a borough manager form of government?

As we prepare for the election on Oct. 1, residents of the peninsula have questions about Ballot Proposition 1. I ask that you set aside notions that this proposition is about a person or political party. It’s really about an efficient form of government that delivers effective, consistent services with better results and cost savings. Political agendas, regardless of the party, are fraught with special interest groups that can have more influence, leaving the average voter with less say about what’s important to them.

Every election cycle, residents tell us their service priorities. We want our borough roads maintained, plowed and sanded. We want emergency services to be there when tragedy strikes. We want a budget that is responsible and economic development that will offer employment opportunities. All these items require long-term strategic planning from an experienced, qualified leader.

The borough faces complex issues. With a borough manager form of government, we will maintain strong political leadership from an effective mayor and assembly setting policy, developing legislation and directing a qualified manager to administer these policies. The borough manager form of government does not give the manager free rein, nor does it give them veto power on policy the mayor and assembly develop.

It is simply not true that the borough manager form of government will take away the vote and will of the people. Residents will still vote for assembly members to represent their district and the mayor will be elected at large by all registered voters. The elected mayor will take over the role as chair of the assembly, retain veto power, vote in the case of a tie and can introduce ordinances and resolutions.

Regardless of your political party, under our current form of government, we see political favors in the hiring of directors or department heads when a new administration is elected. Quite often these appointments aren’t based on qualifications or experience and can stunt the progress of developing efficiencies and cost savings in delivering the services your tax dollars provide. The loss of institutional memory and experience as we lose long term employees takes a significant amount of time and money to recover from. The day-to-day management of borough operations shifts to the mayor, who often lacks the appropriate training, education, and experience in municipal administration and finance to oversee the delivery of essential community services. Inexperience can be expensive in the form of lawsuits, severance agreements and unnecessary turnover.

The borough/city manager form of government is the fastest growing form of government in the United States today. In fact, 12 of the 19 boroughs in Alaska have adopted the borough manager form of government. The cities of Soldotna, Kenai, Seward, Homer and Seldovia operate under this same manager form of government.

Under a borough manager form of government, qualifications and performance are the criteria the elected body uses to select a professional manager. The professional manager, in turn, uses his or her education, experience, and training to select department heads and other key managers to oversee the efficient delivery of services. In this way, borough manager government maintains critical checks and balances to ensure accountability. The hiring process is transparent and open to residents to observe. Nonpolitical management is effective, transparent, responsive and accountable while still having the elected mayor and assembly develop policy and adopt legislation.

If the borough manager form of government passes, the mayor and assembly have an entire year to plan for implementation after the 2020 election. Please vote yes on Prop 1

Kelly Cooper has been the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representative for District 8, Homer, for five years. This opinion piece is her perspective and does not reflect the view of the entire Assembly body. She is a small business owner in Homer.