By Jenny Neyman
For someone as closely involved in codes and regulations as John Mohorcich has been in his 30-year career in land planning and management on the Kenai Peninsula, he’s not as given to unyielding allegiance to doing things by the book as the nature of his job might indicate. Being the director of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center — a hub of intersection between local, state and federal departments involved in managing the borough’s watersheds — makes Mohorcich sort of the broth that binds the alphabet soup of acronymed regulatory agencies together.
There are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross in that role, but enforcing the rules has never taken priority over his own personal rule for doing his job — keeping open ears, eyes and mind in assessing situations as they come. As times change, so, too, do technology, knowledge, approaches and, eventually, the regulations for achieving the end goal of maintaining the health of the Kenai watershed.
“There’s been a learning curve. It’s important for the borough to be flexible and change those codes with that learning curve. We definitely didn’t have all the answers (when the river center began), and I still don’t think we do. If you’re not learning every day it’s time to look back a little bit and scratch the head and go, ‘Hmm, is this the right place to be?’” Mohorcich said.
It’s not that he’s against doing things by the book — he was a code enforcement officer at one point, after all. It’s just that he’s one of the people who helped write the book of land management on the Kenai. And he learned from that experience that throwing the book at someone is rarely a productive way to achieve long-term improvements.
“It goes back to him being able to get along with everybody and treat everyone fairly and explain things thoroughly,” said Max Best, planning director at the borough, and Mohorcich’s longtime colleague and friend. “He’s never demeaning anybody or giving somebody less importance than another. He treats everybody fairly.”
You catch more flies with honey, as the saying goes. In Alaska, where residents take very seriously their private property rights, you get more compliance with outreach, understanding, education and by sweetened positive reinforcements, like tax credits and streamlined permitting processes, than by a governmental representative telling people when, where and what they can and cannot do.
“It wasn’t the philosophy to point fingers or to identify faults and to write tickets for compliance. We wanted compliance, we needed compliance, but I really think that education and voluntary compliance goes much further,” Mohorcich said.