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My turn: Financial reporting rules are onerous

Posted: May 11, 2011 - 7:03am

I read with interest your Empire Editorial: Don’t let them opt out of APOC reporting rules. Any municipal government within the State of Alaska is charged with making many decisions.  Just like any group of people required to come to some consensus, many of their decisions will appear to be good decisions, others … not so good. 

However, I was quite surprised at the Empire’s statement about the “audacity” of the Assembly to place a question on the ballot.  You made a reference to “secret” meetings, but then are even unhappy with something going on the ballot for a public vote. The “secret” meeting to which you refer was an “Executive Session” called in order to compare the qualifications of the 13 candidates and avoid discussing personal characteristics and/or foibles in public.    

The Alaska Municipal League has been working with the Legislature and the Alaska Public Offices Commission to attempt to relax some of the local government financial disclosure laws. There is always a fine line between the public’s right to know and basic privacy. Disclosure rules were put into place to identify direct and/or indirect conflicts of interest; not to require a person to post all of their financial information, as well as that of their immediate family on the internet. 

APOC rules require that people that volunteer their time on a harbor board, a human rights commission, a planning and zoning board, an Assembly (to name a few), submit all of their income above $1,000, to include the amount, the service provided, and the name of the client. If my spouse desires to volunteer for the harbor board, I do not feel it is the public’s right to know about my income that does not directly or indirectly relate to his duties on the harbor board. If I have a small business, I do not feel it is in the best interest of my business or of my clients to give their names and how much they paid me for a service I might provide.  A realtor would have to report not only the Real Estate company that pays him/her, but also all of the clients that he/she represented and the amount paid by each one of those clients. This information is now beginning to go many layers deep.

These are the rules, as you say, for the price of being an elected official. But, the process allows us to attempt to change some of those rules through meaningful and proper procedures. Almost all cities and boroughs within the state have their own ethics/disclosure/conflict ordinances. Paperwork is required by those municipalities, as well. The added paperwork now required is not going to make bad people good.      

Some of this is just plain nonsense. We all remember the actions that brought these rules to bear. People that do not report conflicts of interest should be punished by the law. The voters should send them a clear and concise message. But, to require everyone to spend time making all of their business everyone else’s business does not lead to good government.     

If the spouse of a business owner decides to run for public office and you have a line of credit at that business that is extended two or more billing cycles, your name will pop up on that Financial Disclosure form on the Web; the same if you have an ongoing contract for goods or services. 

Again, all elected officials should be required to report any and all direct or indirect dealings by themselves or their immediate family which conflicts with their duties as an elected official. To do otherwise is wrong. The larger the election pool, the better for the public. Let’s not make this such an onerous and intrusive task that it is not worth it to volunteer one’s time. 

• Wasserman is executive Director of the Alaska Municipal League.

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