APOC plans workshops to explain proposed changes

Commission: Sessions, analysis of changes intended to address concerns of public

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is taking measures to help the public understand proposed changes for regulations on select financial disclosure.

APOC has prepared various revisions in the Alaska Administrative Code. These changes concern financial disclosures for public officials, lobbyists and campaigns. The commission will now hold a pair of workshops to help the public understand the proposed changes. APOC had previously said that it was up to the public to read the changes and interpret the revisions for themselves before the first public hearing on Feb. 23. A second hearing will follow on March 23.

APOC conferred on the matter this week and decided to hold the workshops, said Executive Director Holly Hill. The workshops are scheduled for Feb. 2 and 3.

She said staff will answer questions from the public during these workshops as well as explain proposed revisions.

Hill said this was decided out of consideration for the public so people would not have to read through and interpret the meanings within the 124-page document.

She said the Feb. 2 workshop will be split into times between 9 a.m.-noon and then from 1-4 p.m. The morning session will cover lobbying and will be followed by legislative and public official financial disclosures, respectively. The Feb. 3 workshop will be from 1:30-4:30 p.m., covering campaign disclosures.

She said APOC is currently working on setting up a location that will comply with teleconferencing.

Hill said before the conference, there was concern about the public using such workshops as a chance to “rail” against the proposed changes rather than to learn about them. She said they will be used only to clarify the specifics and any arguments for or against them will have to wait until the Feb. 23 hearing.

“It will be a strictly informative process,” she said.

She said comments on the changes should follow proper procedures on APOC’s website (http://doa.alaska.gov/apoc) which outlines how to submit comments to APOC Assistant Director Jerry Anderson. She said APOC encourages such comments but asks they be submitted properly and are brought up at the hearings and not the workshops.

APOC also decided to prepare a summary of changes. Hill said this would analyze the sections and explain the regulation changes clearly and thoroughly. She said this would be more easily understood by the public, instead of presenting a side-by-side comparison.

She said the changes in the document, available on APOC’s website, are so widespread it may be difficult for the public to determine the changes and the commissioners felt a traditional outline wouldn’t explain all the changes.

“The intent is to explain what the real changes are rather than an itemized list, to explain what it really means in hopes of having it out there before the workshops,” Hill said. “It helps largely because when you’ve got so many things underlined or things just get moved but not changed, it can get too confusing.”

She said a contract attorney is handling this summary.

Hill said the commissioners were very concerned about making sure the public has the chance to understand the proposed changes. The commissioners approved the workshops and summary with a 5-0 vote.

“I think it’s a recognition by the commission that the public has concerns and they’re trying to address that,” Hill said.

She added there are procedures in place for answering advisory questions.

“I don’t think there was any intent to hide anything, just concerns over misinterpretations,” she said, noting that this was a primary reason for the workshops.

A spokesman for the Alaska Municipal League said the group was relieved at APOC’s decision to be more clear with the regulations’ proposed changes. AML had earlier argued that APOC should be more forthcoming with transparency in the changes.

AML Communications Director Charles Westmoreland said it was a real victory to see APOC was going to give the public the chance to ask questions and learn more precisely what the changes mean.

“We think it will be an excellent way to help educate people on these changes. It does seem like there have been a lot of questions from the public on understanding intent. This gives them ample opportunity to do this before the public hearing,” Westmoreland said.

“We had urged for this, but it was the commissioners who proposed the idea. They all seemed to be an agreement this would be the best way to work with the public,” he said. “We’re happy they chose to go down that path.”

AML Executive Director Kathie Wasserman was not available for the conference but said that upon hearing of the decision, she was delighted that APOC had agreed to be more open, saying, “They were responsive and that’s great.”

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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