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Soldotna wrestles with ethics rules: City council looks at financial reporting requirements for public officials

Posted: Friday, July 24, 2009

While some Soldotna leaders wrestled with the distinction between conflict of interest and financial disclosure, others took issue with ethics reporting requirements that hit a bit too close to home.

Meeting as the Committee of the Whole, Mayor Peter Micciche and the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday deliberated over a proposed set of financial disclosure rules that would replace state required reports, if city voters allow.

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.

Rather than give voters the impression Soldotna officials oppose financial disclosure, the city has asked its attorney to draft an ordinance adopting less-strict disclosure requirements into the municipal code.

Attorney Brooks Chandler attended Wednesday's work session to guide council members through the draft.

He began by explaining that an initiative on ethics at the state level several years ago applied to Alaska municipalities as well.

When a city opts to be exempt from the state rules, the city typically has something on the books so people know what the rules are to be if the exemption is approved by the voters, he said.

"The major differences have to do with the level of income ... and who needs to disclose," Chandler said, referring to the differences between APOC requirements and proposed city of Soldotna financial disclosure rules.

In Soldotna's draft ordinance, income in amounts above $5,000 would need to be disclosed. State law sets the level at $1,000 and above.

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.

Municipal officers who are 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 city also requires candidates seeking elective office to make financial disclosures at the time they file their candidacy.

Under state statute, "municipal officer" includes a borough or city mayor, borough assemblyman, city councilman, school board member, elected utility board member, city or borough manager, members of a city or borough planning or zoning commission within a home rule or general law city or borough or a unified municipality.

Chandler also differentiated between financial disclosure and conflict of interest by explaining that disclosure means simply reporting financial interests a municipal officer has; conflict of interest means declaring when those financial interests conflict with legislation being considered by the governing body.

Mayor Micciche, who has previously said he owns rental apartments in the city, objected to a proposed requirement that he disclose the names of his tenants.

Soldotna would require the municipal officer to disclose the "identity and nature of each interest in real property, including leases, rentals and options to buy ...."

"I recommend that residential tenants not be identified by name, just unit number," Micciche said.

Councilman Jim Stogsdill, who said he owns property outside the city of Soldotna, said the real property reporting requirement "should have a proximity clause, such as 'within the borough.'"

Stogsdill also said he did not believe the city manager, as a hired employee of the city, and those who voluntarily serve and receive only a small stipend, such as Planning and Zoning members, should be required to disclose their finances.

City Manager Larry Semmens sat silently during that part of the discussion.

Micciche, however, said, "The city manager is over every decision made in the city."

He also said a simplified report form should be developed for Planning and Zoning Commission members, asking only their primary source of income and the identity of any real property owned within the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Councilwoman Betty Obendorf suggested that commercial and residential rental property owned within the city limits should also be disclosed by commission members.

Following the discussion, Chandler was asked to make recommended revisions, match them with a city financial disclosure report form, and prepare an ordinance for the council's consideration prior to the October election when voters will decide whether to exempt Soldotna from the state disclosure law.

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



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