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ACT bends mayor's ear: Access doesn't mean agreement; meetings are open to the public

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Borough Mayor Dave Carey has agreed to meet with members of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers on a monthly basis through January, thus affording free access to the mayor's office to a group that has been highly critical of the borough and which is responsible for numerous controversial ballot initiatives over several years.

Carey first met with 10 ACT members on Oct. 25 "regarding vision," according to the mayor's weekly report. Another meeting followed on Nov. 22 at which it was agreed to meet monthly through January. To the recent meeting, Carey said, ACT members brought 15 items for discussion.

"The dialogue was very cordial and included discussion to provide residents with more information regarding elections and service area meetings," Carey noted in his latest report available on line. "There were also many questions regarding borough spending."

In the past few years, ACT has used the initiative process successfully to promote caps on sales taxes, limit spending, and impose supermajority voter approval on certain borough activities among other things. Other initiative efforts failed to or have yet to make the ballot. The previous administration under Mayor John Williams often saw ACT as accusatory and purposefully disruptive.

Carey said he believes in the initiative process and the access to the legislative process that it gives groups like ACT. He said the group has raised some important issues with which he agrees, and others with which he disagrees.

For instance, he said ACT representatives inquired about having names along with pictures of service area candidates published in borough election pamphlets, just like candidates for other offices. That, said Carey, was something with which he did agree.

"They didn't believe cities should have their council and mayors (races) and initiatives on the borough's Web page," Carey noted, adding that he did not agree with that idea. Cities are part of the borough, and it is cost effective for their candidates and issues to be on the borough Web site, he said.

Other issues discussed included so-called instant runoffs where voters select their first and second choices for offices on ballots, as well as changes ACT would like to see in state statutes, such as making school board seats subject to term limits.

Carey said he did not see advocating for changes to state statutes as one of his responsibilities as mayor.

As for the Saturday meetings, those are open to the public and anyone can bring any issue to the table, the mayor said. If ACT is the only participating group, that's OK, but the meetings will be public, he said.

James Price, an ACT board member, said he thought it good that members were meeting and talking issues with the new mayor and his administration.

"I know board members are excited about being able to work with this administration as opposed to the adversarial relationship we had with the last mayor," he said. "Hopefully, this will lead to a much smoother relationship between the group and the mayor's office than we ever had before."

Mayor Carey is thought to have won support from many voters in tune with ACT causes in his race against Williams, a race he won by nearly a two-to-one margin.

"I would think so," Price said. "If they (voters) were sympathetic to ACT, they would not have favored the style John Williams had been using."

Price also said it appeared Carey was trying to make himself available to every group with an interest in legislative and administrative processes, not just ACT.

"Carey has made it clear that access doesn't mean he will agree with all or our issues," Price said.

Assembly President Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, said that while ACT has been intensely critical of the borough, she was glad there was an open line of communication between its members and the administration.

"As long as all groups in the borough have the same access," she said, adding that she believes Carey is willing to grant that kind of access. "In what I see in the mayor's reports, it appears that way," she said.

Martin said ACT might be a thorn in the side of the bureaucracy at times, but there is empathy among voters for their causes, and, recognizing that, talking can't hurt, she said.

"If we can get information to them to make them understand what problems we are dealing with, isn't that better than closing it (access) off?" she said.

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



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