Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/23/1996 01:05 PM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 256 - SECOND CLASS CITY MAYOR Number 0037 CO-CHAIR IVAN noted that committee packets for SB 256 contained a copy of the bill, a zero fiscal note from the Department of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA), sponsor statements, support materials, and the latest statutes. He called upon Marla Berg to present the bill on behalf of the sponsor. Number 0075 MARLA BERG, Legislative Assistant to Senator Al Adams, sponsor of SB 256, explained that the bill would give voters in second class cities the option of directly electing their mayor. Under current law, the mayor is elected by and from the city council members, she said. The bill did not change the powers, duties or qualifications of the mayor. MS. BERG referred to page 1, line 10, and said DCRA had recommended that be changed from 30 days to 45 days in case there was a run-off election between city council members. "And we think that's probably a good idea," Ms. Berg said. She concluded, "Nobody would have to exercise this option but it would give them the option to do that if they want to." Number 0163 REPRESENTATIVE AL VEZEY asked: "Why do we want to do this?" MS. BERG explained, "The issue was brought to us by the City of Savoonga. And it doesn't seem like there's really been a problem there. They've elected the same mayor for most of the last 30 years. But the people there really wanted a chance to vote for their mayor." She noted there were approximately 600 people in Savoonga. Seven council members were elected, who then decided who would be mayor. This would allow the people to vote for the mayor, instead. CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN noted that Representative Kott had joined the meeting. REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN asked, "Does this just give the option, so that the council can still appoint their mayor?" MS. BERG replied, "If the city approved an ordinance to let the people vote, then they would go ... this way. But otherwise, it doesn't demand [that] second class cities do anything other than what they're doing right now. It gives them an option." Number 0281 CO-CHAIR IVAN stated his understanding that currently, the mayor was elected from among the council members. This bill would authorize one or more council members to run for the office of mayor, with election being done by the community. MS. BERG responded, "Right. Whoever on the council wants to run for mayor." Number 0372 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said although he had no strong opposition to SB 256, neither did he favor it. "We see in the parliamentary system form of government the strength and weaknesses of electing the chief executive from the body which they preside over," he stated. "And it ... has a lot of advantages in terms of making that body pull together and work, whereas if you elect a mayor outside of that body, ... the cohesive process, that coming to a consensus and electing one of yourselves as your presiding officer, is lost." REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY suggested the process of electing one's own officers created a much closer-working committee than did the bicameral system. He commented that it was not easy being on a city council for 600 people, saying "everybody expects you to vote the way they want you to vote." He concluded the bill was creating a separation of powers and he questioned whether that was conducive to good local government. Number 0521 MS. BERG reiterated that this provided an option, which they did not expect many communities to take. "But we were very careful not to change the qualifications, the duties, the powers of the mayor," she added. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY understood the bill to add one person to the city council. There was a separate position on the ballot for mayor, and, as he read it, that person did not have to be a member of the council. MS. BERG reiterated that in order to run for mayor, a person had to be a city council member. Number 0688 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY denied that the bill said that. After the mayor pro tem was chosen, there would be a special election for mayor. He said the bill did not restrict how those candidates were selected. He suggested the courts would not interpret the proposed statute as prohibiting anybody from being on the ballot for mayor. "Special election tells you, right off the bat, that we're not talking about an elected body gathering together, making their own rules, and electing their presiding officer," he said. "A special election is you're throwing it out to the electorate." REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN suggested that with the prior sections of Title 29, it might fall into place. CO-CHAIR IVAN noted that Representative Nicholia had joined the meeting. Number 0828 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON referred to subsection (b), referenced at the beginning of Section 1 (d), where it said, "Notwithstanding (b) of this section". He said, "(b) of this section provided that the mayor of a second class city is elected by and from the council." REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY responded, "And `notwithstanding' means that regardless of what is said in section (b), they may do it this way by ordinance. And then, it calls for a special election." MS. BERG read from, AS 29.20.240, which said, "A member of the city council is eligible to hold the office of mayor in a second class city." She emphasized they had not changed these qualifications, nor given the mayor veto power. Number 0910 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said, "If you had incorporated that into this, I would agree with you. But I really believe that since this statute actually precedes the one you just read, and since it is calling for a special election, personally, if I was a judge, I would be inclined to say ... this is superseding that requirement. It's passed after the other one was passed. It is before that one in the statutes. We have the `notwithstanding.'... If you amended .240, then ... I'd agree with you. But you didn't." MS. BERG emphasized that they had not wanted to amend AS 29.20.240. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN referred to page 1, lines 10-11, and suggested adding language so it would read something like, "Within 30 days after certification of a regular election, a special election shall be held from the newly elected council for the permanent mayor." Number 1002 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said although he did not disagree with Representative Austerman's wording, he thought perhaps AS 29.20.240 should somehow be incorporated. MS. BERG said Tam Cook, Legal Services Division, was of the opinion that "if we didn't want to change the qualifications, duties, or term of the mayor, what we should do is amend this section, leaving the other sections as they are." She said the City of Savoonga only wanted to change how they elected their mayor. Number 1100 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON referred to line 6 and suggested Representative Vezey's concern would be addressed by adding language so it read, "provides that the mayor is elected, from the council, by the voters rather than by the council." REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY agreed it clarified it. He asked if all council members would be on the ballot as candidates for mayor. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said it allowed the council to make a decision and broadened its choices. He guessed the council would say that members wanting to run for mayor would have to file. Either way, it would be outlined in the city ordinance. Number 1208 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said, "If we allow the council to select the slate of candidates, they could very easily put one person on the ballot. ... And if you put everybody on the ballot, you won't get a majority." He asked what the bill wanted to accomplish. CO-CHAIR IVAN responded, "First of all, we've already got the council members elected by the voters in the community. And the current statutes allow the council members to choose or elect one of them from among themselves in the office of mayor. This provision is trying to add another section, which is, if by ordinance, if the council or the community would go through this route, the candidates from the elected council could be all seven, unless by ordinance they decide ... the maximum number of candidates...." Number 1298 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON acknowledged it was hard to second-guess. However, he imagined the ordinance Savoonga would adopt would establish procedures whereby council members who wished to be candidates for mayor would file for the office. He thought having seven people file would be unusual. CO-CHAIR IVAN said he could understand that the mayor of Savoonga might want to provide the opportunity for other people to run for office. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked what was to prevent the people of Savoonga, if they were truly interested in electing their mayor, from petitioning to become a first class city. Number 1394 REPRESENTATIVE IRENE NICHOLIA expressed that it was good that Savoonga wanted the people to elect their mayor. "I think it's far better when you have the support of the community and that they're involved in something like this," she said. "It gives them the opportunity to talk to the people that are running and find out what their goals are, rather than having it so closed, with just the council...." Number 1777 DORIS BENDER testified that as a resident of Whittier, she lived in a second class city. "And I can see a lot of good in this if the community wants it," she said. She recalled there was a mayor who had been elected by and from the body, resulting in a "tangle for 11 months". Ms. Bender did not envision every council member wanting to be mayor at one time and thought candidates should sign up. She concluded by describing herself as a "champion nit- picker". REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN offered a written amendment, which he called Amendment 1. It read: Page 1, line 10, following "Within": Delete "30" Insert "45" Number 1574 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT objected for discussion and asked for the rationale. CO-CHAIR IVAN explained that it was an expansion recommended by DCRA to allow time during run-off elections. REPRESENTATIVE KOTT withdrew the objection. CO-CHAIR IVAN noted that, there being no further objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. Number 1623 REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN offered a verbal amendment, Amendment2, to page 1, line 6, adding after the word "elected", the phrase ",from the council," and leaving the rest as-is. He stated it would read, "Notwithstanding (b) of this section, a second class city may by ordinance provide that the mayor is elected, from the council, by the voters rather than [by] the council." CO-CHAIR IVAN asked if there was any objection to Amendment 2. There being no objection, Amendment 2 was adopted. REPRESENTATIVE KOTT stated he had thought the last amendment was unnecessary. However, since it has already passed, it was fine with him. Number 1394 REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA said she thought SB 256 was a good bill for people in second class cities. She made a motion that SB 256, as amended, move from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN objected and stated, "I'm not totally sold on this bill yet. I think at least one of my communities on Kodiak has had a little bit of a problem with it. ... Moving it out of committee does not necessarily mean that I'll vote for it on the floor." He withdrew his objection. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY said although he did not object to the bill passing out of committee, he was not sold on it, either. "I think we're going from a situation where we already have a city council who every member of the city gets to vote for," he said. "And these are not in districts. It's an at-large election. I just don't think that we're improving the process of government at all by throwing in this extra election process." He suggested instead of having a mayor elected by consensus of the governing body, there might now be a mayor, elected by a plurality of the people, who may not be the person best suited to working with the body. Number 1756 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said he agreed with Representative Nicholia that it was an opportunity to expand the options available to people in second class cities. He said he also appreciated Representative Vezey's comments. "Sometimes, I will vote for somebody because they are a real - I think Doris [Bender] used this term - a nit-picker, because I think ... there should be nit- pickers on the assembly. I'm not sure I'd want one as a mayor, though. ... And this allows the people to determine whether or not they want a nit-picker for the mayor as well as somebody on the assembly." CO-CHAIR IVAN asked if there were further objections. There being none, SB 256, as amended, moved from the House Community and Regional Affairs committee.