The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday relaxed its proposed financial disclosure reporting regulations, eliminating a requirement that would have made elected officials report their full incomes.
Under an amendment pushed by assemblywoman Joanne Waterman, borough elected leaders would have to report only sources of income greater than $5,000, not total amounts of income from those sources.
The change passed on a 5-1 vote, with member Steve Vick opposed. A final public hearing on the borough’s proposed reporting requirements is set for the Aug. 28 assembly meeting.
Assembly and school board members and the borough Mayor are currently bound by State of Alaska disclosure regulations to report sources of income above $1,000 and total amounts of income from those sources.
The assembly, along with Mayor Stephanie Scott, want borough voters in October’s municipal election to exempt them from the state’s disclosure rules, which they say are onerous, and replace the rules with local ones of their own creation that are less strict.
Disclosure regulations are intended to allow voters to determine if leaders making decisions in the public’s name are being compromised by their own, private financial interests.
Vick said the amounts of income were important in determining a conflict. “For transparency, we thought it was important to have amounts in there. In terms of a conflict of interest, if (the amount of income) is $50,000 instead of $5,000, there may be more concern to call for a conflict of interest.”
Waterman responded that the borough’s ethical code already guides members to disclose conflicts of interest.
“My history of being with the assembly is that financial disclosures have not come into play in that realm,” Waterman said. “I think assembly people I’ve dealt with have come forward when their conflicts are that great. I think the ethics we have guides us in that.”
The borough ethics code currently states: “An assembly member or member of any board or commission may not deliberate or vote on any matter in which the member has a substantial personal or financial interest.”
When she ran for the assembly in 2009, Waterman’s own campaign advertisements read, in part: “I promise to support full financial disclosure.”
Waterman at the time was running against incumbent Pete Lapham. Lapham’s vote to drop a borough lawsuit against a former employer became a campaign issue after state financial disclosure forms showed Lapham had earned $17,842 from the employer.
Lapham had previously characterized the amount of work as “a few loads of gravel.”
In response to questions about the campaign ad, Waterman said this week, “I guess I’m sticking my foot in my mouth to some extent,” but also said, “Can I change my stance in three years? What is full disclosure?”
She said she was motivated by concerns that reporting requirements were discouraging residents from running for office.
Waterman said she offered the amendment because “it just struck me that we have a code of ethics. If we live by that, everything is fine... But we’re human beings.”
“Do I hope everybody will live up to our code of ethics? Yes. That’s who I want to serve on the assembly with,” she said.
Mayor Scott, who was excused from Tuesday’s meeting, wrote a memo to assembly members July 18 suggesting full income reporting was perceived as an invasion of privacy and that the borough’s previously proposed disclosure form “will not turn the tide.”
Assembly members have pushed to get out of the state’s reporting requirements three times in the past seven years. Borough voters rejected the idea in 2008 and 2009 and a similar effort in 2005 died when it hit opposition at assembly meetings, never reaching the ballot.