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Mayor gives rundown on ballot measures

Posted: September 22, 2011 - 11:04pm

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho gave the Chamber of Commerce members a rundown Thursday on five ballot measures that will appear on the ballot Oct. 4.

Chamber CEO Cathie Roemmich started the event saying Botelho wasn’t giving an argument for or against the issues.

Botelho admitted he would likely editorialize one issue — the ballot measure asking voters to opt-out of Alaska Public Office’s Commission state laws on public official financial disclosure laws.

That will be the first question on the ballot.

Botelho said it is interesting to him, as he is doing research on past Assemblies, that in 1971 when the city was newly formed two of the same topics on the ballot were ones the city was grappling with then. One was public official disclosure law, and the other a temporary sales tax for the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.

The public disclosure law the city wants to change involves how much financial information Assembly members, school board members, planning commissioners and the city manager must file each year. Currently that is dictated by state law and administered by the Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC. But, the law also provides an opt-out for municipalities — via voter approval.

Botelho recalled the FBI investigation five years ago of many legislative offices, which brought significant and sweeping changes to ethics laws. Those changes applied to not only legislative officials, but also went all the way down to cities.

Botelho said if the opt-out is approved by voters, they also are approving a Juneau ordinance that would put into place what are essentially APOC’s regulations from pre-2007. Botelho believes the 2007 changes mostly went too far. He said the only difference is that in 2007, the regulations narrowed the income source reporting requirement of more than $5,000 earned to more than $1,000 earned. That will stay.

Currently, officials must file the exact amount of income earned from a source and how it’s earned (along with their spouses and any dependent children earning income). The proposal will change that requirement to merely listing the sources.

Botelho said the fact an official is earning income from a source means they have a conflict of interest with that particular entity and by law they are required to recuse themselves. He said the dollar amount is a moot issue.

Botelho admitted the city does not have the oversight measures in place that APOC does, but said that the city does have criminal prosecution available and forfeiture of office measures and any citizen suspecting a violation can bring forth a complaint.

Botelho believes the state law has a “chilling effect” on quality candidates running for office. He said there needs to be a balance between the public’s legitimate right to ensure officials decisions are free of conflict of interest, but at the same time having a degree of privacy for officials.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to simply say that’s the price you pay for running for public office,” Botelho said. “I think we have to reframe our thinking on this. Start off with the premise every person should be prepared to do his or her duty, including running for office. ... What is it that the average citizen should be prepared to disclose when running for office?”

The fifth ballot measure — the citizen initiative of imposing a 15-cent tax on plastic bags used from some retailers — got a bit of attention from the Chamber members.

Botelho explained the proponent’s intent with the measure is to deter people from using nonreusable bags. The measure places a tax at major retailers — those with gross revenues of $15 million or more. Taxes collected would go to the city’s general fund. Those businesses would include Safeway, Fred Meyer, Walmart and Home Depot.

Attorney and member Ben Brown said when citizen measures go to the Legislature, the lieutenant governor has the legal department review the measure. He asked if City Attorney John Hartle had done so. Brown questioned whether the measure was constitutional because it only applies to some retailers.

Botelho said the city’s role is not to review the initiatives before the election. He said the city makes sure the initiative petitions meet the requirements. Botelho said with both the state and city-level, petitions are reviewed to see if they meet all the criteria for becoming a measure and don’t conflict with the state Constitution. It isn’t until after voters approve it that legal arguments are reviewed on the basis that, if it doesn’t pass the muster of voter confidence anyway, then the time of the courts has been wasted.

“If voters turn this down, there is no reason for them to get involved,” Botelho said.

Another person asked who would be liable to defend the measure in court. Botelho said if it is passed and there is a legal challenge, the city would be responsible because once it passes it becomes city ordinance.
Botelho explained the temporary 3 percent sales tax extension request, which is set to expire next June.

The tax goes to core government services and is divided into three sections. One percent goes to services like police, fire, library, EMS, and some utilities. One percent goes to streets, infrastructure, stairs and retaining walls. One percent goes to capital improvement projects decided by the Assembly. That remaining 1 percent also gets divvied between the emergency fund, youth programs and other civic group requests.

Botelho explained the two ballot measures by the Juneau School District. He said the district has realized the citizens are nearing “voter fatigue” on major school bond issues as it’s been asking the voters for serious dollars annually to renovate the many school buildings and build a new high school.

So this year, he said, they kept it simple with two small requests. Both are eligible for state reimbursement funds, with the state reimbursing 70 percent of the project costs.

One project is to change the heating system planned for the Auke Bay Elementary School renovation to ground-source heat pumps. The cost is initially higher than standard fuel oil or wood burner systems, however it also is expected to save significantly higher dollars in energy costs annually. Voters are asked to approve $1.4 million, and by doing so approving the spending of interest revenues from other school bond projects on paying down debts.

The second project is the replacement of the turf at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. That will cost $1.2 million.

The need for replacement comes from the fact the turf is beyond its useful life and is seriously worn in many areas. It also experienced arson vandalism this spring, though that isn’t the largest factor in its replacement.

It has become a safety issue, Botelho said, because the artificial turf fibers can’t support the pellets that go underneath and so there is increasing risk of falls.

Botelho said the assumption is the new turf will have a useful life of 10-15 years.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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