Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:15 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Appointed service area board seats worth talking about


From an early age we're taught to pick our battles. Save our time and energy for what matters most, the wisdom goes. Compromise, if you can in good conscience, in an effort to keep your sanity — and live as peaceably as possible with all.

Sometimes we're surprised when what seems like a common-sense proposal turns into a battlefield.

Take the Kenai Peninsula Ordinance 2012-07 as an example. Borough assembly member Linda Murphy of Seward proposed the ordinance in an effort to "save money and time, reduce voter confusion during the election process and encourage public participation in serving on service area boards."

That sounds like a good deal to us. And Murphy should know better than most. She's a former borough clerk.

Lots of people, however, haven't taken kindly to the proposal. In a memo to the assembly dated April 13, Murphy writes: "I have been called un-American, have been compared to Chinese dictators and have had my integrity questioned over this issue. I find it more than sad that political discourse on the local level has become so mean spirited and divisive. I believe this is one reason so few people want to run for office and, if I didn't have such thick skin, I would probably be questioning whether I would want to run again in a year's time."

Murphy is prepared to vote against her own ordinance unless she sees an uprising of support for it by May 1 when the assembly is scheduled to take final action on the proposal.

Among the criticisms leveled at the proposal is that it takes away people's right to vote, that it takes away their right to choose who represents them in the various service areas. We take the right and privilege to vote as seriously as anyone, but those who are using that hammer to slam the ordinance aren't looking at the facts. First, the vast majority of people running for service area board seats are elected without opposition. Second, most people aren't taking advantage of their privilege to vote. They aren't lining up on Election Day to cast their ballot — and even if they were can they really make an informed decision about who's running for service area board seats?

'Fess up: Do you really know who you're voting for when you mark that service area board seat? The odds are really great that people don't know much — if anything — about the people they're electing to those seats. In those rare instances, where there's more than one person running, the vote boils down to a popularity contest. Is that good government?

Plus, Murphy has proposed that service area boards recommend preferred applicants to the mayor prior to anyone being appointed.

There's already evidence that appointed boards and commissions do work — the planning commission and the road service area board are two great examples.

We believe there's something to Murphy's position that more people are likely to get involved if they can put their name in for appointment rather than having to stand for an election. It's less intimidating, and we desperately need more people involved in local government. The assembly would serve as the check and balance on the mayor's appointments.

Our fear is the assembly may not support a common-sense change because of the outcry of a few really vocal people. Is the system broken? Maybe not. Is there the potential for some savings and efficiencies with Murphy's proposal, not to mention a nudge to get more people involved? We think so.

The assembly —as well as the rest of us — need to ask ourselves if government by the squeaky wheel is the best government. We hope Murphy and others who favor the ordinance don't give up the battle just yet.

If nothing else, we hope we can remember we're all neighbors. We can and should have a meaningful debate on this and other issues. The name calling and disrespect doesn't get us anywhere.

Whether you agree with us or not, we hope you'll let assembly members know where you stand on the issue of appointing, instead of electing, service area board seats.