City attorney finds Wanamaker's ties to mining a conflict of interest

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Juneau Assembly member Randy Wanamaker's ties to the mining industry constitute a conflict of interest, according to City Attorney John Corso, who recommended Tuesday that Wanamaker be excused from voting on a proposed mining ordinance he helped draft.

The proposed ordinance would distinguish between rural mines and urban mines, making the former "allowable uses," which carry fewer conditions than the "conditional use" permits all mines in Juneau must obtain now.

Wanamaker chairs the Assembly's Lands Committee, which steered the drafting of the ordinance. At a May 7 meeting of the Assembly Committee of the Whole, he noted some people had expressed concern he might have a conflict of interest. He said he didn't agree, but would recuse himself from voting. Assembly members then asked Corso to issue an opinion on the matter.

Wanamaker is chairman of Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation. Goldbelt owns property at Berners Bay's Cascade Point, which Coeur Alaska plans to use as the main access to its Kensington Mine Project, a gold mine about 45 miles north of downtown Juneau.

Wanamaker served as an environmental consultant for Coeur Alaska on and off for six years, but said his contract expired in December 2000, 10 months before he began his three-year Assembly term. He also performed some unpaid work for BBC Human Resources Development, a for-profit joint venture of Coeur and Goldbelt. In that position, he maintained records for a company that recruited and trained locals to work at Kensington.

"Because I have not been a consultant to the mining industry for about three years, and because I haven't received compensation for anything, I assumed I had no conflict at all," Wanamaker said Tuesday. "I have no promise of a future job or anything like that."

But Corso said Wanamaker's position with Goldbelt constitutes a personal conflict of interest because of the corporation's interest in the Kensington project.

"Assuming that Mr. Wanamaker fully discloses his conflict, and abstains from further participation, (the mining ordinance) will probably not be subject to judicial invalidation based on his conflict of interest," Corso wrote.

But some Juneau residents testified at Monday's public hearing that Wanamaker's role in the genesis of the proposal was problematic.

"To the extent that Mr. Wanamaker does have a conflict of interest, it calls into question this entire process," Bruce Baker said.

Corso said Wanamaker's work on the Lands Committee doesn't negate the validity of the ordinance proposal.

"It would be prudent for the record henceforth to indicate that the Assembly has engaged in active deliberation and informed decision-making rather than passive acceptance of the Lands draft," Corso wrote.

Wanamaker said he disagrees with Corso's opinion, but will abide by the finding.

"There are areas where it's not clear and he's taking a very cautious approach, but that's what attorneys are paid to do," he said.

The Assembly could take up the conflict issue at a Friday work session. Mayor Sally Smith was unavailable Tuesday, and Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch did not return a phone call for comment.

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