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Petition charge gone; hearing planned

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2007

A controversial $100 filing fee has been dropped from proposed amendments to the borough's procedures for handling initiative and referenda matters.

Ordinance 2007-32 was introduced Aug. 21 and given a public hearing Sept. 18, but action was postponed to Oct. 9. The measure gets a second public hearing at Tuesday's assembly meeting.

Changes initially proposed by Borough Clerk Sherry Biggs included imposing a fee returnable if an initiative application was approved for petitioning activities setting a cap on the number of signature booklets produced and clarifying issues regarding who would be considered initiative sponsors. Those raised concerns among residents who recently have used the public initiative process' avenue to the ballot, specifically members of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers.

Saying they were far more than mere housekeeping measures, ACT activist Vicki Pate, of Nikiski, told the assembly Sept. 21, "It seeks to limit the number of signature booklets available, limit the number of people allowed to collect signatures and charge a fee for anyone attempting to petition the borough government."

Pate said the borough's proposed $100 fee was being imposed "only to discourage citizen participation."

The borough administration countered that such fees are charged at the state level, but Pate noted that statewide petition drives allow an unlimited number of signature booklets and an unlimited number of collectors.

In a Sept. 27 memo to the assembly, Borough Attorney Colette Thompson, Deputy Attorney Holly Montague and Biggs said further review of state statutes had led to refinements of the proposed changes, including dumping the $100 fee.

Thompson said Friday that the decision to eliminate the call for a fee was a pragmatic one.

"The concern was that there was no clear authority to impose the fee," she said. "It would be more difficult to defend than not."

The latest version of the ordinance now includes no fee.

It continues a call for a cap on the number of signature booklets that must be produced, however, but increases that figure from 50 percent more than would be necessary to garner the number of signatures needed to put a petition on the ballot to 100 percent. In other words, if the number of signatures needed would fill 60 books, the clerk's office will produce 120 books.

Borough code requires petitions include certifiable names equaling 25 percent of the votes case in an area with fewer than 7,500 persons, or 15 percent of the votes cast in an area with more than 7,500.

A new provision would allow additional booklets to be printed, but sponsors would have to pay the associated costs.

The clerk's office stops counting and certifying names in the filled-in signature booklets once enough have been cleared to ensure an initiative or referendum a place on the ballot. Thus, additional booklets, from the standpoint of ballot access, are unnecessary.

For petition sponsors, however, there is a public relations element to gathering excess certifiable names the more signatures collected, the better the demonstration of support.

According to the Alaska Division of Elections, when it comes to statewide petitions, enough names are certified (plus a small buffer) to meet qualifications for the ballot and that information is relayed to the lieutenant governor's office. However, the division continues to enter and certify names for another purpose that of ensuring that no voter is inadvertently dropped from active voter rolls.

Other proposed changes in Ordinance 2007-32 would require that the sponsor who circulates petition booklets must be the same person to whom those booklets were issued. Also, a newer revision would add a clause clarifying that additional petition sponsors may be added at any time before the petition is filed (when signed booklets are submitted to the clerk) by providing the same information as the original application sponsors.

Another change would allow the clerk 10 days after a petition is filed in which to check and certify signatures. The current language states that action must happen immediately upon receipt of the petition, which is a practical impossibility at times.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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