SWEET – Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School students Karmen Kane, right, and Sophia Stark make chocolate-dipped strawberries Wednesday night during the Keet Family Night. Hundreds attended the event, which included a chili dinner, activities and heart-shaped cookies. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

AN OPINION: Assembly Should Hold Off Action on Voters’ Rights

By Thad Poulson

Editor, Daily Sitka Sentinel

The members of the City and Borough Assembly have earned our thanks for the thoughtful and orderly way they have been dealing with the challenging fiscal issues that are affecting all Sitkans.

I believe it is not out of line to ask them to take the same kind of careful look at an ordinance on Tuesday night’s meeting agenda that might appear to be merely a housekeeping matter. It’s far more than that.

If approved, Ordinance 2018-18 would repeal seven existing sections of the city code requiring voter approval for the sale or lease of city land or tidelands over a certain value, and similar restrictions on the demolition of city buildings.

Passage of this ordinance, in our opinion, would be a mistake. In any event it deserves more detailed consideration by the Assembly than is possible when it is an item in the midst of a crowded meeting agenda.

Over the many decades that the special land sale and lease provisions have been in force, they have never caused any complication or delay in the routine process of selling or leasing tracts of city lands and tidelands. It is not true that passage of Ordinance 2018-18 will “free up” any more city property for sale than is now available.

It is also not true that the special provisions that are up for repeal are invalid under the state constitution. The city’s outside counsel claims they are unconstitutional, but he is hardly an impartial source, having battled the citizens group Sitkans for Responsible Government all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the Sitka law, but it did reject every other claim by the city in its attempt to defend its rejection of a Sitkans for Responsible Government initiative petition application.

If the Assembly wants to pursue its investigation of whether its land sale and leasing policies are constitutional, it needs to get the opinion of a knowledgeable, impartial outside authority.

One thing that the current controversy has brought to light is the desirability of updating the land sale valuations requiring a public vote: a 2018 dollar is worth quite a bit less than the dollar of 1992.


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