It’s no surprise the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly thinks it is a good idea to opt out of state financial reporting laws and design a friendlier set of rules that take information off the Internet and make it harder for the public at large to track things. The Assembly that recently vetted one of its own in secret to fill an Assembly vacancy already has an established track record on issues pertaining to open government.
The good news is that such an act must be approved by the voters. We hope voters will keep their local government accountable under Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC, guidelines, should the Assembly have the audacity to put this idea on the ballot.
Mayor Bruce Botelho and others have legitimate concerns about the level of financial reporting required of public office holders and others who must file disclosures that are listed on the state database. The rules, however, are the price of being an elected official.
Public office isn’t a private club, and it is always best to err on the side of transparency.
If someone is very uncomfortable with the personal details of their life being laid bare as far as finances and real estate holdings, running for public office may not be the best choice for them. Everything else about their lives becomes fair game once someone is in office. It is hard to live a public life, and those who volunteer for that deserve our thanks.
They don’t deserve the right to create a reporting system that requires someone to ask for public information from the city clerk, one that seeks to limit access and appeal rights for people who live outside Juneau.
The proposal amounts to a weakening of the public’s right to know. It is unlikely any code designed by a local government will be significantly stronger than the state laws in any important areas, and the idea here in Juneau is to limit access to that information by specifically not putting it online. In a world where everything seems to be going online it seems unwise in the extreme to take a step back to the 1970s and bring back bulging file cabinets.
While the Assembly is correct in noting many municipalities have received voter approval to leave APOC’s oversight, and have created their own rules, those are mostly smaller places than Juneau. Fairbanks is the only exception.
We believe the public is best served when information about those who run its government is out in the open and available in a convenient form. That’s what we have now under APOC’s reporting rules.