Legal or not, a line has been crossed.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams' decision to join Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, a statewide coalition of Alaskans pledged to fight a pair of clean-water ballot initiatives they say would shut down mining in the state, cut jobs and damage community economies, begs one to take a look at the impact such a decision has on his position as mayor.
Williams has no qualms about joining the group, saying that seeing former Gov. Bill Sheffield and former state legislator Arliss Sturgulewski's names on the list influenced him.
"Regardless of what the other side says, this is an issue that could shut down mining in Alaska," Mayor Williams said. "I've been taken to task by a couple of people because of statements I've made, but this could shut down mining."
It's pretty clear how he feels about the issue, which basically boils down to Pebble Mine. Mayor Williams wants to see it happen.
The question is, does the borough?
The assembly sets borough policy, not the mayor. But his advocacy does not reflect policy, he said.
"As an elected official, I have the right to voice an opinion of a political nature," he said.
Williams says he's free to take a stand, even speak out publicly against the initiatives. He said he wouldn't work to prevent their appearance on the ballot, but he would urge Alaskans to vote "No."
In our opinion, as a representative of the people of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Mayor Williams' affiliations with any such political groups could be perceived by the public as biasing his judgments on related issues that may come before the assembly.
Mayor Williams said his decision to join the group has resulted in some negative public reaction. We're not surprised.
He also admitted it "might" be hard to separate the time he'll spend advocating against the initiatives, which could be construed as using borough time for political business. But, he said, it is not altogether unusual for the mayor to support a cause, even a political one, while still representing the borough.
Mayor Williams claims he has done nothing illegal; that's not our point. The borough mayor or any elected official who throws themselves into an issue to give it more clout is obviously using their position improperly.
We don't begrudge the mayor the right to speak his mind. But there's a fine line between pushing a cause and using an elected position to push a political action group. The latter, we feel, is wrong.
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