Assembly: Vote on APOC disclosure rules, again
Undeterred by three defeated attempts in the past seven years, Haines Borough Assembly members again are taking steps to exempt the municipality from the state’s laws requiring candidates for local office to report their financial holdings.
Assembly members say the state’s requirements are “too intrusive and rigorous,” and have “created a hardship for keeping and recruiting municipal elected and appointed officials in our community.”
An ordinance that would put the question to borough voters during the October municipal election was introduced at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. It says a local financial disclosure form approved by the assembly in 2008 “would still protect the public from the influence of private or business interests… while allowing certain rights of privacy for our citizens seeking to hold public office.”
A major difference between the state’s law and the 2008 borough proposal regards income reporting. The borough would require candidates to report sources of income greater than $5,000, but not total amounts.
The state form requires reporting of sources of income greater than $1,000 and amounts of income from those sources. The state’s 12-page disclosure statement requires reporting income sources from salaries, self-employment, dividends, business interests, rents, trusts, and retirement accounts.
Under the state’s requirements, office holders who own retail businesses are not required to disclose individual clients or customers who spend more than $1,000, with the exception of customers who have a line of credit over two billing cycles; customers with ongoing contracts for goods or services; or customers offered discounts not available to the public.
The Alaska Legislature adopted stiffer reporting rules in 2007 the wake of the statewide VECO corruption scandal that found lawmakers taking cash bribes from an oilfield service company. The changes were aimed at making office holders more accountable about income sources. The borough’s 2008 proposal is similar to the state’s 2006 reporting form.
Borough voters rejected requests to drop the state’s requirements in 2008 (with 57 percent opposed) and in 2009 (with 55 percent opposed). In July 2005, the assembly introduced an ordinance to put the exemption to voters, but members voted it down a month later after the change encountered public opposition.
The most recent effort to exempt the borough from the state reporting requirements arose as one of eight goals identified by assembly members during their strategic planning process. Among the borough’s arguments was that roughly half of Alaska’s 200-plus communities have exempted themselves from the law “with no apparent ramifications.”
Opponents to the change in 2009 said public officials should be held to a high standard of transparency when doing the public’s business. They also said a local law would be difficult to enforce and requiring actual dollar amounts of income over $1,000 helps the public determine if a public official has a conflict of interest on a particular issue.
At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, assemblywoman Debra Schnabel raised questions about a section of the borough’s proposed reporting form that would require office holders to list “ownership interests of more than $1,000 in a publicly traded corporation.” Schnabel said the form seemed “rather detailed.”
Mayor Stephanie Scott responded that it might be possible to word the proposition “in a more positive fashion,” and that new wording could be submitted at the next assembly meeting.
Assemblyman Norm Smith said exempting the municipality from the requirements has failed in the past “because it sounded like we weren’t going to have a financial disclosure law at all, and that’s not the case… We’re trying to change it so it’s not so restrictive. It really restricts people from filling out the form. You get halfway through (the form) and you go, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this? Why do I have to fill this out?”