Bill Paden takes the oath after being appointed to the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night. Paden will serve until October, when the seat vacated by Terry Blake will appear on the municipal election ballot. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

Bill Paden was appointed during last night’s regular meeting to fill the vacancy left by Terry Blake’s resignation. Blake and his family are moving to Texas.

Paden was among six people interested in the seat. Also on the list: Matt Hunter, Ryan Haug, Michelle Putz, Jack Ozment and Sherry Aitken.

There was no public testimony on who should fill the vacancy, and even Assembly members were limited in their comments. Thor Christianson, Pete Esquiro and Cheryl Westover all expressed support for Paden. Mim McConnell and Phyllis Hackett supported Matt Hunter. But with the table leaning toward Paden, McConnell said she would join the majority and vote for him, too. She said it didn’t make sense to draw out the process. Mike Reif was absent.

Paden is a retired commercial fisherman who considers himself a conservative. He says he’s concerned about a drop-off in cruise ship traffic and its result on sales taxes. He also says he feels the city needs to back off on its spending and start saving some money.

He served one term on the Assembly about 10 years ago. The appointment lasts until October, when the seat will appear on the municipal ballot.

Click the image to enlarge chart and link to details on the new rate structure.

Electric rates approved
The Assembly gave final approval to a new electric rate structure that could  decrease monthly bills for mid-level residential users. But those who use little power will see an increase because of a boost in the minimum bill amount. And residential customers who use a lot of power will see major increases – perhaps to the tune of hundreds of dollars per month.

The Assembly also removed alcohol and tobacco from the senior citizen sales tax exemption. Assembly members said they were made aware that alcohol and tobacco were exempt earlier this year when attempting to make other changes to the tax. Beginning October 1st, everyone in Sitka will pay tax on alcohol and tobacco.

Corporate ‘personhood’
Also Tuesday, the Assembly weighed in on the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Assembly endorsed a resolution saying only citizens have constitutional rights, not corporations.

The resolution was sponsored by Assembly members Mim McConnell and Mike Reif. McConnell said she was approached by the local activist group Alaskans Against the Corporate Abuse of Power.

The resolution condemns a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. the FEC, which said political spending is speech protected by the First Amendement. The protection extended to corporations and unions. Critics of the ruling feel it gave corporations too much power, especially in the high-stakes, high-financed world of electoral politics.

“I’m tired of feeling stuck and ineffectual and seeing things happening in Congress that are wrong that are hurting people here, on the local level,” McConnell said. “We’re the ones that are cleaning up the mess here, in our community, because of decisions that are made in Washington, D.C., on both sides of the spectrum. This is our chance to say ‘No, enough, it’s got to change.’ This is something I can do, here, tonight.”

Mayor Cheryl Westover had questions. Shouldn’t the media and unions be included among corporations? Don’t they shape the national conversation just as much? Libby Stortz, one of the resolution’s proponents, said she was in favor of anything that said only individuals have Constitutional rights.

“We’re not saying that unions should have all of the rights, and corporations shouldn’t have any of the rights. We’re saying only people should have rights under the Constitution. That’s how the Constitution was written,” Stortz said. “I’m pro-union, personally, but that doesn’t matter, because unions are also entities made of people. They are not people themselves.”

In passing the measure, Sitka joins a host of other communities across the nation. The website of the organization Move to Amend lists 137 communities that have passed similar resolutions and another 47 that are considering the measures. The list includes communities as large as Seattle or Tucson and as small as Chester, Vermont, population 3,100.