Homer City Charter Petition Effort Gathers Steam

Homer residents may have noticed a petition circulating around town recently, calling for the formation of a charter commission.

If the petition effort is successful, that commission would then be tasked with writing a new city charter for Homer.

Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson has been researching state and federal law on the subject ever since Homer resident Ken Castner announced that he would lead a local effort to create a commission. Johnson says the first step for organizers would be to gather 185 signatures.

So far, the clerk’s office has given out 12 petition booklets to people interested in gathering signatures. Johnson says those folks will have until Jan. 27 to gather at least 185 signatures and then Castner would file them all with the clerk. After that, the Homer City Council will get a look at the signatures.

The clerk’s office will compare all of the signatures with the city’s voter rolls to make sure they are all accurate. If the threshold is met, then it’s time to find some commissioners for the charter commission.

Johnson says there has to be at least seven commissioners, who would have to gather 50 signatures of support to be considered. The potential commissioners would then be a part of next year’s municipal election in October. At that election, Homer voters will also be asked whether or not to form a charter commission. If the answer is yes, the top seven vote-getters would be the commissioners. If the answer is no, that would be the end of the process.

If the commission gets the green light, it would have one year to write the city charter, which would basically replace the current Homer city code and lay a brand new foundation for how the city would be run. The city would be recognized by the state as a “home-rule” city instead of a “first-class” city and would have broader powers to form a new government.

Johnson says there are state and federal rules, however, governing the charter-writing process.

If the charter is completed in time, Johnson anticipates that voters will decide its passage at the October 2015 municipal election. If the vote fails, the charter commission would get one more chance – another year to rewrite the charter and hold another vote. If the vote passes, the new charter would become law on the date the charter is certified.

Many cities in Alaska, including Kenai and Seward, are already home rule cities, with many of them adopting their charters in the early 1960s, shortly after statehood. Homer is the fourth-largest Alaskan city that remains a general law city.

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Aaron Selbig is a reporter at KBBI in Homer.