On the heels of the municipal election, Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting (10-13-15) saw a changing of the guard. Matthew Hunter was returned to his seat for another three year term, while Bob Potrzuski was sworn in to replace Michelle Putz. And in her farewell speech, Putz made a case for civic engagement that resonated throughout meeting.
As a former civics teacher, Bob Potrzuski is all too familiar with the U.S. Constitution. But last night was the first time he swore to uphold it as a sitting member of the Assembly. The swearing in ceremony was performed by city clerk Sara Peterson.
Potrzuski:…and I will faithfully discharge my duties as Assembly member of the City and Borough of Sitka to the best of my ability. Thank you very much Sara.
Looking on was his former student Matthew Hunter, who was also sworn in for another three year term and re-appointed deputy mayor. Benjamin Miyasato was re-appointed vice deputy mayor.
But it was retiring member Michelle Putz who stole the show. She moved Mayor Mim McConnell and six-member body – now all male – with a farewell speech, saying, “I’m going to try this year not to cry. I want to thank the Assembly for trusting me and supporting me, so thank you.”
Putz served a one year term in 2012 and was brought in January to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Phyllis Hacket. Putz made her swan song short, but explicit. She urged citizens to get more politically involved, telling the public to, “[take] responsibility for this community…by participating in those boards. By putting their name in for stuff. By showing up at those meetings. By voting. By doing all those things. And especially in showing up for the Citizens’ Task Force meetings on city services, revenues, and fees.”
The task force has been meeting since September and attendance has been pretty sparse. Putz expressed her disappointment. She said, “People need to be showing up to those meetings regularly. If they call a public meeting, then you don’t get to complain. We need everyone to give their input so good decisions can be made and because we have heard from people – not at the very last moment when it’s hard to make any changes – but from the start.”
Putz’s comments – about why citizens should weigh in on municipal politics – was a kind of theme throughout the meeting. Matthew Hunter, the Assembly liaison to the Port and Harbors Commission, says the group has struggled to achieve a quorum and thus get any business done.
Ben Miyasato said the Library Commission had the same problem last meeting. No quorum? Couldn’t do business. Like Putz, he stressed that more audience chairs needed to filled in future meetings of the Citizens’ Task Force in order for it to be really effective. Miyasato said, “The upcoming legislative session is going to be difficult and if the public wants to be involved in the process, this is where you get your foot in the door – here at the task force. Those were wise words Michelle [Putz] gave in her outgoing speech. ”
To that end, the liveliest discussion last night was about how the Assembly can entice citizens to air their views before the Task Force, from holding a public form to advertising the meetings more widely. Right now, the meeting is only advertised once before they take place.
Whatever the solution, Tristan Guevin, the Assembly liaison to the task force, said that outreach is a recurring issue for the Assembly and a challenge worth overcoming. He said, “I think it’s something that we struggle with as well: How do you engage people beyond an evening meeting? How do you really get out there and get everybody’s voice and make sure everyone is represented? So I would hope to see more discussion around that. How can we better engage the public and get more input.
The Assembly also rounded out the seven members of another citizen-led group: the Marijuana Advisory Committee. They are Darell Windsor, Don Jones, Myron Fribush, Andrew Hames, Joseph D’Arienzo, Kitty Sopow, and Levi Albertson. The group will advise the Assembly on how to regulate commercial marijuana come next year, when the state begins to issue licenses.
Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz pointed out that compared to the rest of the region, Sitka is late to the party. He noted, “Juneau’s just about ready to complete all their regulations. Their comission has been meeting since the beginning of February actually. So it’s starting to get down to crunch time.”
And in times like these, of both financial strain and big decisions ahead, the Assembly seems to looking to its own citizens for leadership.
Here is a draft of the state’s marijuana regulations, issued on October 1, 2015. Citizens can give comment on the proposed regulations this Friday (10-16-15) at the LIO at 1:30 p.m. The comment period is open until November 11, 2015.
On first reading, the Assembly also passed an ordinance that would give the Planning Commission power to approve or reject conditional use permits directly. Under this proposed change to General Code, applicants will have the right to appeal to the Assembly.