By Carey Restino
Homer’s city council heard from community members Monday night who wanted to start the process of making the city a home rule city, a move that would give the city more control over planning decisions as well as allow the city council more power.
According to the state, there are 145 city governments in Alaska of which 12 are home rule and 133 are general law. The cities of Kenai, Kodiak, Seward, Valdez, Fairbanks, Cordova, Ketchikan, Nenana, North Pole, Palmer, Petersburg and Wrangell are all home rule cities.
Ken Castner and Ginny Espenshade briefed the council on their desire to propose that Homer become a home rule city at Monday’s meeting. Castner said one of the things that inspired him to propose the action was to invigorate conversation and diffuse apathy among city residents regarding their government.
“There is a malaise in town that needs to be addressed,” Castner said, adding that creating a constitution could open up new pathways for the citizenry to feel more enfranchised.
One of the main features of a home rule city is that it adopts home rule charters. Castner and Espenshade said that if the community were to be involved in the creation of these charters, it could help build community involvement with local government.
One factor, however, is that the process of creating a home rule city would almost certainly mean a special election sometime in the process, Castner said, since two election dates must be held and the second must be held 90 days after the first.
A home rule charter is created by a charter commission. Castner and the other home rule supporters must collect 185 signatures, after which seven would-be commissioners must sign up for election. An election will be held to approve the creation of the charter commission, and the seven candidates receiving the highest number of votes will become the commissioners.
Those commissioners must then prepare a proposed home rule charter within a year, which would then be submitted to the voters at an election 30 to 90 days after the proposed charter is published. If voters approve the proposed charter, it is then submitted to voters at an election held within one year of the date of the first charter election.
Espenshade noted that one of the benefits of being a home rule city would be adopting the powers of plat approval for the city. While the city planning department makes recommendations to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, it is the borough planning department that makes the final decision regarding all plat approval in the city limits.
“I agree that with power comes responsibility, but who better to make local decisions,” Espenshade asked.
There was discussion about the fact that those supporting the effort, to become a home rule city, had done so independent of the council. The effort could have been introduced through the council rather than through an voter-led effort.
Castner, who has a court case pending with the city regarding the recently assessed cost of installing natural gas lines to city residences and condominiums, said the choice not to go through the city initially wasn’t an anti-city action. He said whoever initiated the action would be in for a significant amount of work, work he finally decided was necessary.
“I think it’s a very good sort of thing to enter into a discussion about local government,” he said. “It will make people think about things a little more.”
Councilman Beau Burgess said if the purpose of the process is to have an open government, then the group should try its hardest to make sure that conversation happens.
Mayor Beth Wythe invited the group to report to the council as often as it wanted as a means to keep not only the council, but the community as a whole informed about the process.
“We wish you the best of luck and we do want to provide you a forum,” Wythe said.
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