The Soldotna city council approved a ballot question for the fall concerning financial disclosures for municipal candidates. If approved by voters, the disclosures would be kept closer to home.
So, the question that voters will answer in the fall is whether the city shall establish and adopt financial disclosure forms and guidelines for City of Soldotna municipal officials and candidates and exempt municipal officials and candidates of Soldotna from the requirements of the state financial disclosure laws. Right now, candidates have to file with APOC, the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Soldotna City Manager Mark Dixon, who introduced the issue to the council, said the APOC requirements are too intrusive.
“Quite frankly, I think it has a chilling effect on people wanting to get involved, and I think it can have a detrimental effect on those people on those people who do get involved.”
He says that makes it difficult to recruit people to serve on boards and commissions, and makes for a more shallow pool of candidates for public office. Widespread distribution of the records doesn’t help either, he says.
“Once you get onto one of our commissions, your entire private life, as far as your financials, become public knowledge. If you file with the state, anyone can go online and determine all of your finances. And if you’re a business person in this community and you have competition in this community, or competition coming from outside this community, it’s very easy for somebody to get online and see what your business assets are like.”
Dixson says even with those concerns about the current disclosure laws, and the proposal to keep the information at city hall, transparency is still a priority.
“We feel that we have an obligation as well to protect our commission members, to protect our council members, and I don’t think it’s anybody’s business from Huntsville, Alabama, what anyone on this council or anyone on these commissions have in their finances. It should be local because we believe in local government here.”
This isn’t the first time such a proposal has been made. Just five years ago, the city put a similar question on the ballot. Fifty-six percent of voters in 2009 said no to ditching the APOC regulations and adopting local ones.
The city cited similar reasons for the change then, coming just a couple years after the state tightened its financial disclosure rules following allegations of corruption in the state capital. Dixson told the council the major change would be keeping the records at city hall, where they could be viewed upon request. They will not be available online.
The other big difference is the floor for financial reporting. The state requires disclosures for income, loans and other financial transactions of more than $1,000. The city would raise that to $5,000. So, basically, the city would revert back to those pre-2009 rules the state had in place.
More than 200 communities across the state have opted out of the APOC filing rules. The new rules for Soldotna will only go into effect if voters approve the ballot measure during the October 7th election.