Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:59 PM on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Officials obligated to fix flawed voter initiatives

By Bill Smith


Bill Smith

Dodging the obligations of office is wrong.

While the voters passed the term limits initiative, they also approved an initiative limiting capital expenditures over one million dollars without a 60 percent approval from the voters.

It was wrong to give a minority of voters control over a ballot issue and, as it turns out, it is against state law to use a ballot initiative to restrict the assembly's ability to manage the fiscal affairs of the borough.

The assembly could have left the effects of the initiative in place, but instead chose to meet their obligation to best govern the affairs of the community and changed the restrictions set in place by voter approved initiative. It was the right thing to do.

It was right for the assembly to modify the result of a voter-approved initiative when, in assembly members' judgment, modification was needed to best conduct the business of the borough. Alaska state law gives weight to the initiative process and sets rules for how the process works. State law also sets a maximum of two years wherein an initiative must not be changed, because initiatives, while they may be voter approved, are written without public process and often contain provisions which are unwise or unworkable. After the two year period, the legislative body has the ability, as well as the obligation, to make any needed corrections. Besides, the two terms for three years each limit was not changed and will still govern most terms of office.

The editor believes term limits "infringe on people's fundamental voting rights," yet postulates that only voters should lead the charge to a reasonable balance. I agree about the infringement, but disagree with the editor's solution. When fundamental rights are infringed, we are obliged to address those fundamentals, rather than waiting for the initiative fairy.

Assembly members are elected to exercise their judgment on our behalf and we should expect and demand no less than their best effort. When that judgment includes changing the results of a voter-adopted initiative and the voters do not approve, they will have their say at the next election.

Like the editor, I believe that it is inappropriate for term limits to be imposed on local bodies like the city council or borough assembly. While I do respect and support the vote of the people to apply limits to the assembly terms, the devil is indeed in the details.

The voters did say that two three-year terms were OK. That equals six years of service. However, reapportionment and other circumstances may see an assembly member being term limited after two one-year terms. That equals only two years of service. If six years is OK, why are we limiting someone to two or three or four years? Does this make any sense? If the voters wanted only a single two-year term, why don't they just vote for that limit?

The editor believes I should not have voted on the term limit amendment because it "immediately affects Mr. Smith's ability to serve another term." It is refreshing to know someone who can so clearly see into the future, I will have to consult this oracle more often. At the time of the vote, I not only did not intend to run for office, I did not think the amendment would allow that to happen. When the borough attorney was asked if I could run for office, she first said yes after two days of thought, and then reconsidered for more than a week. It was not at all apparent this would be the outcome.

It is reapportionment which scrambles term lengths and obligates action by the assembly to bring reasonableness to the conditions of term limits. All assembly member terms will end next year. Two members, having served one three-year term and standing for election this year, will have been term limited after four years. Most other members will have similar issues.

I have filed for another term on the assembly, but contrary to a Homer News article, the term will be for one year only due to reapportionment. If elected, I will have had three terms on the assembly for a total of five years.

Bill Smith represents District 8-Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.