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Government needs to remember its role is to serve the public

Posted: October 24, 2013 - 9:35am

What’s the proper relationship between the private and public sectors? Recent government actions have prompted us to consider that question anew.

The seeming unwillingness of the Homer City Council to provide relief for the estate of late council member Dennis Novak, whose Bay View Inn lost its permit for nonconforming use in a rural residential area, makes us wonder why compassion can’t be considered with consistency when enforcing city rules. (After all, the inn was there before the zoning rules.)

And a plan by the Alaska Marine Highway System to end sales commissions to travel agents booking ferry trips for Alaskans, and only Alaskans, is just plain confusing.

In the Bay View Inn matter, historical context should count for something. The inn operated for more than 50 years. Should its ability to operate as a business be taken away because — for whatever reasons — the inn didn’t operate for more than a year after after Mr. Novak’s death? 

Surely, there’s got to be some wiggle room in this issue without opening a Pandora’s Box of planning and zoning problems. Nobody wants all the rules to be tossed out, but can’t those rules be administered with common sense? What if those making the decisions asked: Is this how I would want my family treated? Who is hurt by allowing this?

We understand the slippery slope that granting exceptions can be, but in this case we urge city officials and the city council to reconsider and find a win for all parties. Do city officials really prefer a slice of Homer history be bulldozed and replaced with a single-family residence or, even worse, to deteriorate to the point it can’t be resurrected as a viable small business? 

On the state level, the Alaska Marine Highway System plan to cut commissions to travel agents for sales to Alaskans may be penny-wise, but it’s pound-foolish. The move would save the ferry system about $100,000, but it would cost eight jobs at the employee-owned, Homer based Alaska Ferry Adventures & Tours and put that booking agency out of business.

To both the Homer community and the larger Alaska community, those eight jobs are worth far more than $100,000. 

For years, the government mantra has been: Government shouldn’t be doing what private enterprise can be doing better. This is a prime example of a service that private enterprise can do better. In fact, if the ferry system really wants to save money, why doesn’t it let private enterprise take over all its bookings? 

If the state follows through with this plan, it needs to be prepared to answer how the move better serves Alaskans. When a private company does the job of state workers for less, and in the process serves customers and helps the visitor industry by adding on land tours, hotel bookings and flightseeing trips, that’s not a bad thing. The ferry system needs to look elsewhere for cuts.

Back to the question: What’s the proper relationship between the public and private sectors? The Alaska Constitution says it best: “All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.” 

The Bay View Inn and Alaska Marine Highway System issues illustrate what happens when government forgets its role. The people are the boss, not the other way around.

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kearbear 10/24/13 - 10:10 am
Yes, the Inn was there before

Yes, the Inn was there before zoning rules. However, this location is no longer an operating Inn. The past business ceased to exist for a considerable length of time. A closed sign was put up. The property no longer was operated as a business. It was left empty and unoccupied. The owner of the property allowed the property's grandfathered use to expire by not maintaining consistency of use. The property could not be sold in good faith as an operating business. All good will has been lost by not being up and running as a functioning business. Since it has been allowed, by the owner, to remain in a state of non use, the current zoning rules apply. In other words, if the current owner had continued to operate or hire a manager to operate the Inn, the Grandfather use would have continued uninterrupted. The problem was the result of poor decisions of the owner.

Herbert 10/24/13 - 10:54 am
Owner obligations

The court appointed administrator of Dennis' estate had a fiduciary obligation to continue operation of the Bay View Inn and maintain its asset value. Continued operation would have maintained grandfather status.

If his sister was/is the administrator she will have to sue herself for financial malfeasance or in the alternative, the court appointed administrator.

Someone was incompetent, but certainly not the City of Homer.

kearbear 10/25/13 - 06:17 am
The role of Government is to

The role of Government is to write and enforce laws and regulations with fairness and consistency. Also, it is the obligation of Government to apply the same laws and regulations to the Government that are imposed on the people.

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