The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly is set to return to in-person meetings on Thursday, after meeting telephonically for nearly two months.

According to Borough Manager Michael Powers, the borough submitted a COVID-19 mitigation plan. During future meetings, all assembly members and audience members will be required to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Masks will be suggested. No food or beverages will be permitted during assembly meetings. Frequently touched surfaces, including the podium and public restrooms, will be cleaned frequently. 

The maximum number of people who can attend a public meeting is 50. Powers said members of the public will be permitted into the assembly changers on a first-come, first-served basis.

The number of people attending a borough meeting rarely exceeds 50, but borough staff are preparing for that possibility.  If more people show up, chairs will be set up outside the meeting room, and additional individuals will be permitted to listen into the meeting telephonically. 

During their first in-person meeting, the assembly is scheduled to discuss the borough budget, tax rates and funding appropriation for the Kodiak Island Borough School District, among other topics.

The assembly voted during a special meeting on Thursday to approve an ordinance that would permit them to meet telephonically during future declared disasters or emergencies, despite some concern that the telephonic meetings impede public participation.

The ordinance permits the assembly to meet telephonically during disasters declared by the federal government, state or borough, if the disaster prevents the assembly from safely meeting in person. During telephonic meetings, members of the public will be able to call in to provide comments, but will not be able to address the assembly in person.

The ordinance passed 4-2, with Assembly Members Julie Kavanugh, Andy Schroeder, Rebecca Skinner and Duane Dvorak voting in favor. Members James Turner and Scott Arndt were opposed. Assembly Member Dennis Symmons was absent. 

“I view this ordinance, the fact that we are incorporating these changes into the borough code, as a way of ensuring that we have mechanisms and tools in place when we are unable to convene all together physically in one place as a decision-making body. I ultimately am most interested that the business of the borough can continue to get done. With the COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to gather in the same room,” Skinner said.

“I do see value in codifying the tools so that COVID-19 restrictions go back into place, and/or if there is another disaster such that we can’t meet in one place, we know how we will handle that.”

Speaking during a public hearing on the ordinance, Kodiak resident Joe Dinnocenzo expressed concern about the remote meetings.

“I think this whole system is just really really bad for having any kind of public input. Proper public supervision of the borough assembly is how I put it. There just isn’t any opportunity for me as a public citizen to get in here,” Dinnocenzo said.

“I think this is a bad idea. As much as possible, we should be meeting in person … You can be 6 feet apart and wear a mask. I think you could do it, and I think you should.”

Assembly members said that while the new ordinance permits the assembly to move to telephonic meetings without approving an emergency ordinance, it will likely not be used frequently. 

“This isn’t something that I see us using a lot, but I think the immediate circumstances have really highlighted a need for this,” Skinner said.

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