City asks how much public needs to know

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Does a city council member own a civil engineering firm or other business? Who pays rent to the mayor to live in his rental apartments? How much does a councilor receive in pension benefits, and from whom?

Exactly how much does the public need to know about elected officials' personal finances?

Prior to tonight's Soldotna City Council meeting, members are to meet as the Committee of the Whole to review a proposed ordinance adopting a new city law governing financial disclosure.

The city plans to ask voters in October if municipal officers and candidates for elective city office should be exempt from strict Alaska Public Offices Commission rules on financial disclosure.

Alaska statutes allow cities to be exempt, but only if voters agree.

In the wake of numerous corruption cases involving state lawmakers, tougher reporting requirements were imposed on all elected officials in Alaska, but many cities have objected, saying the new rules are intrusive and discourage folks from running for office.

Besides asking very specific questions such as who an attorney's clients might be and how much they are paying for services if the attorney happens to be a city council member, or asking who an elected official's renters are and how much they pay per month, the new APOC reports would also be available to the general public on the Internet.

Roughly half of Alaska's 200 communities have voted to be exempt from state disclosure requirements.

Soldotna officials have said they are not opposed to making financial disclosures, just not as in-depth as the new APOC requirements.

Instead, the city is proposing its own set of rules and report form for disclosure.

Under city rules, professionals including health care providers, certified public accountants, stock brokers or financial advisers and attorneys would not be required to disclose the names of individual patients or clients who receive professional services.

The mayor, city manager, city council members and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission would be required to make financial disclosures under the proposed city law.

The Committee of the Whole meeting is slated to begin at 5:30 p.m.

During the regular city council meeting, a capital projects appropriations ordinance is to be considered identifying $1,182,500 in capital projects recommended for funding during fiscal year 2010.

The single most expensive item on the projects list is phase 2 development of Soldotna Creek Park at $595,000.

Following an earlier discussion by council members, a new item has been added to the list: paving West Redoubt Avenue from the elementary school to the end of the road. Its price tag is estimated at $225,000.

The council also is set to consider adopting a grant application priority list for water and sewer projects. Grant funding would come from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to City Manager Larry Semmens, identifying the priority list is a step toward getting priority points for DEC grants. Water system improvements rank highest of all state funded projects.

Soldotna's top project would involve modifying the existing well and well house B, installing an on-site chlorine generator and upgrading electronic controls.

Public presentations scheduled for tonight include bear awareness in the city, presented by Larry Lewis of Alaska Fish and Game, and an award presentation to the Friends of the Library logo contest winner.

The council meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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