FNSB Building

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Juanita Helms Administration Center is seen Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Fairbanks. Caitlin Miller/News-Miner

The two city mayors signed a letter opposing a plan that would take adjudication powers from elected members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly and give them to a new Board of Appeals filled by appointees.

“It is our position that elected officials should stay involved with the appeal process and not delegate these responsibilities to a committee with non-elected members,” reads the Oct. 19 letter to assembly members signed by Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly and North Pole Mayor Mike Welch.

“You were elected with the expectation that you would use your knowledge and judgment and wisdom to decide matters such as these,” the letter states. “In fact, it is your responsibility to decide them and not to abdicate your powers to a committee that is not directly accountable to the residents of Fairbanks North Star Borough.”

An ordinance by Borough Mayor Bryce Ward, which is up for a public hearing and possible assembly vote today, would overhaul the borough appeals process.

Ward wants to make appeals quicker and easier by creating a five-member Board of Appeals to handle some cases. A borough appeals officer would handle other cases.

Residents file about a dozen appeals a year with respect to government decisions about private property, animal welfare, taxpayer exemptions or paratransit eligibility.

If adopted, the ordinance would disband the Public Transportation Advisory Commission, which Ward said has been inactive, and the Board of Adjustment, which is the name for the Borough Assembly when it holds quasi-judicial hearings.

“One of the reasons given for making these drastic changes is that quasi-judicial hearings and procedures require specific training and knowledge,” wrote Matherly and Welch to the assembly. “As an elected body, you are often called upon to make decisions on far-ranging variety of issues.

“Besides your own training and knowledge, you have the assistance of your experienced staff to assist you in carrying out your adjudicatory functions,” the letter reads. “And, if faced with an appeal on a particularly complex issue, the assembly has always had the power to appoint a hearing officer to decide the matter.”

The Board of Appeals would also handle cases currently heard by the Planning Commission, the Animal Control Commission and the Platting Board, which are all filled by appointees.

The Planning Commission and the Animal Control Commission met about the mayor’s plan and both nearly unanimously opposed the idea.

At least three assembly members said they have concerns.

“I like the idea of improving the process,” Assemblyman Matt Cooper said in a text message, “just not sure if this is the best way. I want to take some more time to review and work through the ordinance.”

“I plan to ask for another work session,” texted Assemblywoman Marna Sanford.

The proposal is too complicated, she said.

Assemblyman Jimi Cash said the ordinance has too much opposition.

Assemblyman Frank Tomaszewski said he has received many emails and that the majority “believe that it is a bad ordinance consolidating power to fewer politically appointed individuals.”

Tomaszewski said he is withholding judgment until after the public hearing.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet 100% but I’m leaning towards no,” texted Assemblywoman Mindy O’Neall. “I think the idea is a good one to streamline the public process and potentially make it easier and less time involved, but I am uneasy taking away authority from citizen bodies who know the issues and code, particularly dealing with animal control and community planning. Most importantly, there doesn’t appear to be public support.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

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