Anchorage mayor installs private line, computer for office campaigning

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- The mayor of Anchorage has installed a private phone line in his City Hall office and brought in his own computer to avoid the appearance he's doing campaign-related or personal work at the public's expense.

A state campaign practices official says he might be violating the law.

Mayor George Wuerch said Friday making calls on his own line in the mayor's office is more practical and less costly to taxpayers than leaving the building to make campaign calls. It's also more honest than if he were to use the city's phone line and pretend he wasn't, he said.

''It's a question of efficiency,'' Wuerch said. ''Are we going to interrupt the day when I can reach people? We're not.''

But an official with the Alaska Public Offices Commission criticized the practice and said it might violate state law.

State election law says an officer of a municipality can't use city money to influence a candidate's election. Making campaign calls on city property during work hours without accounting for those hours and expenses, even on a private line, could violate the law, said Chris Ellingson, who heads APOC's campaign disclosure division.

''It sounds like there could be a problem,'' Ellingson said. ''It might be a situation where he wants to contact us and chat with us about what he's doing.

''I'm just astounded,'' she added.

The situation is an example of how involved Wuerch has become in the April 3 assembly elections. Wuerch recently announced his support for a full slate of assembly candidates, most of whom are challenging incumbents.

Wuerch said he paid installation costs at City Hall after he took office last summer and pays a commercial rate to use the phone. Normally, he might take a half-dozen personal or political calls a week, he said. As the campaign season picks up, Wuerch said, he may take more.

Other politicians who also have long, on-call work schedules probably just use government phones, despite the potential ethical conflicts, Wuerch said. His idea of a separate phone line might make such politicians nervous, he said.

''I've set a precedent here that they may not like,'' Wuerch said. ''But I'm comfortable in my conscience.''

Assemblyman Doug Van Etten, whose opponent is supported by Wuerch, said it concerns him that taxpayers are spending a five-figure salary on the mayor while he is making campaign phone calls between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

''We elected him to solve the city's problems, not to try and create a rubber-stamp'' assembly, Van Etten said.

Assemblyman Dick Traini, who is running against Wuerch-endorsed candidate Jonathon Lack, wasn't bothered. It shows character that that mayor is not using city equipment to make his calls, Traini said.



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