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Let assembly judge if undue influence exists

Posted: January 22, 2013 - 2:18pm  |  Updated: January 23, 2013 - 9:24am

Mr. Bill Smith, Assembly Member, resorted to the frequently used technique of expressing “phony outrage” when encountering criticism to his point of view. This is meant to immediately neutralize and then suppress any further opposition. Unfortunately in modern discourse this works all too well. A better approach for Mr. Smith is to challenge Mr. Wolf and demand that he produce evidence that there is “undue” influence by the Kenai Watershed Forum on public policy. After all, it is a prohibition for non-profit organizations (such as the watershed forum) to lobby public agencies.

I, for one, would like to know if it is appropriate for the executive director of the watershed forum to sit on a local Road Board or as a voting member of the Borough’s Planning Commission. There may not be a “legal” prohibition for the executive director to sit on this board and commission, but it sure places the executive director in the position of appearing to use these positions to advocate for policies favorable to the watershed forum. If I were sitting on board of the watershed forum I would be very concerned that this may cause uninvited scrutiny about the organization’s non-profit status.

So, Mr. Smith, instead of demanding apologies and expressing phony outrage, demand that Mr. Wolf’s criticism be aired in public. The Assembly, as the people’s representatives, can make a judgment as to whether it was “completely unwarranted” and an “inflammatory attack” as you describe. The issue would be put to rest and public would be much better served.

In another part of this article, the Mayor makes an impassioned plea for the people to “pay attention.” I believe that people are paying attention. In large numbers (1,600 have signed a petition to repeal the Ordinance) they have decided that Ordinance 2011-12 is more about “zoning” than “saving the fish.” The Mayor has also complained publicly that he has never spent so much executive time on a single issue. His reaction indicates that from the beginning he has totally miscalculated the public’s concerns about further implementation of fish habitat protection. Perhaps it time for the Mayor to also “pay attention.”

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spybot 01/25/13 - 02:55 pm
There is no prohibition on non-profit lobbying

You are off base on the assumption that executive directors of non-profits cannot engage in lobbying activities - they can, both on the state and federal levels.

For the state regulations, any member of the public can lobby state legislators and administrators on proposed changes to statutes and regulations, just not more for 10 hours in any rolling 30 day period of time, else they have to sign up as a lobbyist under state rules.

For the federal IRS regulations - a 501 c 3 non-profit can engage in lobbying, including the executive director, just as long as those lobbying activities are not a significant portion of the organization's activities, which is informally defined as not more than about five percent of the overall budget of the group.

At the municipal, state and federal level, there is no prohibition of individuals sitting on board or commissions if they work for a non-profit.

There is no legal basis for your assertion that Mr. Ruffner is violating the law. He has as much right as any other citizen to sit on a planning and zoning commission, a road board, or hold political office. If there is a conflict of interest on an issue involving Mr. Ruffner and his employment with the Kenai Watershed Forum, it is up to that regulating entity (board or commission) to follow its protocols for declaring conflicts of interest and act according to its policy in regard to each individual circumstance as perceived conflicts arise. That is true for and and every member of a board or commission.

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