Borough Assembly recap: February 25, 2020

Feb 26, 2020

Credit Kenai Peninsula Borough

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly met Tuesday night in Soldotna. The borough enacted Ordinance 20-23 by unanimous consent. The borough will now join 23 other communities in the state in organizing to collect online sales tax.

The borough postponed action on an ordinance brought by the mayor – to allow for gated communities in the borough. Council members voiced no objections to the development of new, gated communities. The point of contention is in allowing borough residents to convert existing subdivisions into gated communities. In his Lands Committee report, Assemblymember Jesse Bjorkman said that several borough communities expressed opposition and 22 people from the Homer area submitted letters of objection to the ordinance, which was postponed until the March 17th meeting.

The assembly unanimously passed an ordinance changing the residency requirement for elected officials. Borough residents now have to live in their district or area for one year to be eligible to run for borough office or serve on an area board. The assembly also established a review process for candidates who have their eligibility questioned.

After a presentation by Michael Munger, Executive Director of Cook Inlet Reigional Citizens Incorporated, a resolution sponsored by members Dunne and Cooper passed. The borough will officially support the current state laws regulating oil and gas. Munger said that Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune informed CIRCAC that he believes up to 40% of the laws regulating oil spill response are unnecessary, but, Munger said, Brune has not told CIRCAC which regulations he intends to cut. The DEC is accepting public comment on the matter through March 16th.

About three hours into the meeting, during public comment on Resolution 2020-016, Assembly President Kelly Cooper called the proceedings to a halt.  The resolution expresses official assembly support for House Bill 198 in the Alaska State Legislature. The bill would add LGBTQ citizens as a protected class included in the law that allows for increased sentences for people who commit hate crimes.

A similar resolution passed unanimously at the Anchorage Assembly meeting Tuesday night.

Tammie Willis of Sterling is one of several people who gave public testimony in support of the resolution.

“On November 14th, I found a note on my truck. It said, dumb ass dyke. We don't want your gay ass gay libtard ass here. So take it somewhere else before you get hurt. On November 22nd an object was thrown at my truck, shattering my windshield. I later learned from the Soldotna police that they had found a rock with the word dyke written on it at the location where it happened. On December 9th, things escalated to include an assault in my home where I was repeatedly cut with a knife and punched until almost my entire left side was covered in bruises. It took 20 staples and two stitches to put me back together and almost a month for the bruises to heal," said Willis.

After Willis’s testimony, Assembly member Bjorkman decided to question whether Willis was lying about the attack.
Bjorkman said,“I respect you as a person. And because of that, I feel it's only fair that you, I make sure you know what people are saying. There are people who don't believe your story. Okay? So I'm going to ask you these questions because there, there are things that have been asked of me and, and things that I've been told. There's an accusation out there, that the handwriting on the note and your own handwriting, that was put on the note. Is very similar. How do you respond to that?"

Willis responded, " It's not true."

At that point, President Cooper called a recess. A few minutes later, when the assembly returned, Cooper called Willis back to the mic.

“Your question is exactly why people in the LGBTQ community don't come forward and report the assaults and the violence that they face. It's because people would rather dismiss our experience than believe that it can actually happen in their community," said Willis.

Several assembly members expressed reservations about the resolution and all hate crime legislation, saying that LGBTQ people did not need to be included as a protected class in any case.  The resolution in support of House Bill 198 ultimately passed 5 to 4 with Assembly members Bjorkman, Blakeley, Cox and Hibbert voting against the resolution.

The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be March 17, 2020 in Soldotna.