September 27, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 39

Candidate shortage not uncommon in Southeast

Some Haines school board members have pointed to the state’s financial disclosure requirements as reasons for apparent low interest in recent school board elections.

There hasn’t been competition for candidates seeking seats on the board since 2010, and for the second year in a row, the board will have to appoint a member because one open seat hasn’t attracted any candidates.

Haines High School senior Royal Henderson is among three unopposed candidates for the board this year.

But Haines isn’t the only town in Southeast with ballot vacancies and uncontested races. In at least three Panhandle communities with empty or uncontested races this fall, financial disclosure requirements appear not to be an issue.

Sitka had no declared candidate for a seat on its five-member school board this fall, prompting a write-in campaign, and in Petersburg, no candidate has come forward for one of three seats open on the city council, the town’s main governing body.

There’s only one contested race on the entire Petersburg municipal ballot, which includes three seats on the city council, two on the school school board, and four on the planning commission. (The contested race is a three-way contest for two seats on the Harbor and Ports Advisory Board.)

“That’s been common the past few years,” said Petersburg clerk Kathy O’Rear. “We have a lot of seats and if there’s interest, (candidates) aren’t running against each other.”

Petersburg exempted itself from Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) financial disclosure requirements years ago, O’Rear said, and there is no local disclosure requirement. “That’s not the reason here,” she said.

Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer said he’s been elected three times unopposed.

Lon Garrison is president of the Sitka school board and also president of the Association of Alaska School Boards. In the five years that he has served on the board there, he remembers competition for seats only twice. He was re-elected, unopposed, two years ago.

“People seem to be pretty happy with what the board has done. There’s not a lot of controversial issues,” Garrison said. There’s a lot more interest in seats on Sitka’s assembly, where issues are more contentious, he said.

Sitka exempted itself from APOC disclosure requirements and instead uses a locally-generated disclosure form.

In the City and Borough of Wrangell, candidates for both seats open on the assembly are running unopposed.

Jeremy Maxand was elected Mayor there two years ago unopposed. Unopposed candidacies aren’t uncommon in Wrangell, he said.

“If somebody gets (elected) who’s not controversial or there hasn’t been a problem, people don’t feel there’s a need to run. If somebody wants to step up and commit their time, other folks figure that’s just as well and they don’t have to do it,” Maxand said.

Maxand points to the borough’s hospital board, where a controversial recall last summer ousted eight board members. In the ensuing election, there were 17 candidates for the eight seats and an “incredible turnout,” he said.

Maxand said he’s heard grumbling about Wrangell’s requirement to fill out APOC financial reporting forms, but doesn’t think it’s kept anyone from running.

“Personally I haven’t heard that, but it’s hard to tell because maybe they don’t say anything at all. We haven’t had anyone come forward and say, ‘I’d run for office but I don’t want to disclose my personal financial information,’” he said.

Wrangell clerk Kim Flores said she believes there’s more interest in the school board than assembly there because school board members are elected using a ballot that lists candidates in aggregate, with vacant seats going to candidates receiving the highest numbers of votes. (There are four candidates for two school board seats there this fall.)

The ballot to elect assembly members lists candidates by specified seats, so candidates have specific opponents.

“When people come in (to file for assembly seats), they like to see who else has declared (for a seat) and then they’ll decide if they want to run against that person. I think that’s why there’s less interest in (running for) the assembly,” Flores said.

A similar arrangement exists in Juneau, where assembly candidates run for designated seats by district, but school board candidates appear on the ballot in aggregate. In the upcoming Juneau election to fill two assembly seats, one candidate is running unopposed. In the aggregate ballot for school board, five candidates are seeking three seats.

Juneau also adheres to state disclosure laws. The city-borough assembly last year sent to voters the question to exempt them from the state’s disclosure laws, an effort that failed 5,240 to 1,902.

Clerk Laurie Sica said it’s hard to say whether disclosure requirements deter candidates there, as many people file online. “We tell them, ‘You’re not a certified candidate until you file that form.’ If you’ve never been involved in government or the public process, it may seem a little intrusive.”