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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Always, always follow the money...

Watching local legislation roll like the wheel of a wringer washer isn’t the only important task at hand.

You should already know that the noise in the room during the 2012 election season will be loud enough to scare Joe Hazelwood sober. It will be a lot less scary for a few potential candidates and their handlers if they paid attention to a full day of “here are the rules of the road” that the APOC (Alaska Public Office Commission) laid out when they brought their educational road show to the valley this week.  Citizen Lobbyist was there for a three part training day covering “Group Campaign Issues”, “Candidate Campaign Issues” and “Public Official Financial Disclosure”.

APOC was the result of the Watergate kybosh that served as a big wake up call to our state to look more closely at the way campaigns are monitored.  A 1973 citizen’s initiative started the ball rolling for the final legislation that created APOC and currently it thrives as part of the state Department of Administration. It’s important to know that the PEOPLE of ALASKA are its boss under Article 1, Section 2 of the State Constitution.  All of the staff decisions (some 31 people statewide) are subject to a commission review and decisions can be appealed all the way to Superior Court.  Who knew, right? 

How people are elected and are supposed to behave in doing so is pretty important stuff. You can learn a lot about how someone will govern by the quality of their campaign. Just who they surround themselves with, depend on for advice, put trust in, plus just how hard they work to get elected are big fat clues. If they are hopelessly lazy on the campaign trail, they won’t be a workaholic diving into your concerns and issues once elected. If the candidate is all “show pony” surrounded by campaign workers that are holding their breath and turning blue on a regular basis hoping they can get the candidate over the finish line without a major gaffe that will derail the campaign and send it hurling down the drain chased by an economy jug of draino…well you get the picture.  If candidates are on the fence with the rules while out trying to get elected, blatantly ignoring them or seemingly just unconcerned with what is lawful, that should indicate how they might govern should you elect them.  Perhaps if better attention had been paid to “how” some got elected we wouldn’t have spent a bundle changing their wardrobe to all stripes or forcibly altering their zip code. 

It was an interesting mix of attendees for the one day APOC training.  The names of the innocent and not so innocent will be kept tucked under the citizen lobbyist clipboard for now.   Suffice it to say  Dems, R’s  and the fastest growing sector of our voters Non Partisans were in full force to get up to speed on the latest and greatest changes in the rules of the game.  Even with the room largely filled with politico’s, more than a few eyebrows were raised as some of the regulations and questions from the attendees were presented.  Regulations discussed that  that have been in place all the time. There are new regulations that are now more fully explained and in some cases thanks to the Citizen United Ruling much murkier.  But one thing is clear, the fines, if ENFORCED, are nothing to sneeze at (from $50.00 to $500.00 a day) and the statue of limitations is “5 years”.

For the first time ever, a sitting MSB School Board President will try to run for re-election to that seat and at the same time attempt to unseat a sitting state Senator for another office and it’s perfectly legal. Wow, how conflicted is that?  Candidates will be running that hardly ever warm a seat at the table in person but spend the bulk of their time in other countries attending skypelike and telephonically and think that’s perfectly fine.  Is it in the best interest of Mat-Su residents and Alaskans?  The voters will have to decide that.  One thing is decided for you, and that is with state redistricting, 59 of the 60 state legislators will be up for re-election in November along with the Presidential seat and one Alaskan Representative House seat in a battle for the old and the new. Starting in April, Anchorage has a city-wide election for Mayor, Assembly and School Board.  In October here in our borough the Mayor, 3 Assembly seats, and 2 School Board seats will be up for grab. Are you starting to feel the noise vibration and your mailbox hinges creaking yet?

Yes, this will be a noisy year and there will be some old tricks and new ones no doubt.  There is no Elizabeth Warren standing with a flashlight on the cockroaches.  In our state we must all have our flashlight ready to wield with a little bit of back up by something everyone should be familiar with, APOC.   Go there, check it out.  You need to know, because those that don’t have our best interest at heart will know, find the loopholes, fine lines or hope no one is watching and will use it to wreak havoc. 

Elections have consequences this year more than ever.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Didn’t see that comin...

Quick someone better check your Citizen Lobbyist for bedsores! Not only did the assembly gavel out at 9pm this week offering the opportunity to get home early in the frozen dark of night, but there was a BIG BONUS! Settle in and read on for your lobbyists report.

Every meeting needs a pre-meeting doncha know..
No matter how much Assembly members Arvin (from his rickshaw in China) and Colver (from his sandy beach in Hawaii both via Skype) try to convince everyone that there are problems with the borough procurement process, they just keep coming up with nothing. Staff and management were called to the carpet again for a special 4PM meeting on Procurements. Probably Assemblyman Salmon who breaking from his normal practice of agreeing with the boys club said it best by asking near the end, “I don’t understand why we are even here? I don’t believe in the Assembly micro-managing”.  Exit Assembly stage left shortly after.  Maybe it was beginning to get hard to ignore those smells of hot tax payer paid pizza arriving for dinner.  No one asked for another chest puffing meeting to discuss the topic.

Got Ethics? Let’s kick this can down the road a little farther..
The Ethics Code that has become the subject of a long Assembly badminton game without much discussion again was postponed until Feb 16th by Assembly member Arvin. Nope, it wasn’t passed nor referred back to the Ethics Committee to bat around. No real substantive reason we could grasp other than just a case of the   “We can’t think about this today, we’ll think about this in February”.  At least it leaves us limping along with a dated ordinance (as opposed to no ordinance for towers or tall structures) and an opportunity to convince the decision makers to take the immense amount of public input they have and pass a good healthy ethics code then.  Stay tuned!

On to the show stopper ..or Bring on the duct tape to quiet those pesky citizens ordinance
Mr. Manager and whichever Assemblyman put him up to it (and unsurprisingly no one is likely to fess up to it) got their first  trip of the year  to the woodshed on ORD-12-002 which attempted to limit to one hour the maximum time for public testimony at during audience participation at future Assembly meetings. Citizen Lobbyist made it pretty clear in previous posts why this is a bad idea and encouraged leaders to leave the duct tape in the drawer next to the WD 40.  There was some pretty robust public testimony on the subject.  Important points on reserving the public’s right to speak and what a “chilling effect it would be to the democratic process,” ,the importance of encouraging public input and not discouraging it.  There were poignant reminders to the Mayor on his campaign promises for an open and transparent government and ease of testifying particularly for our neighbors in the north who are geographically challenged to personally attend. The Borough Attorney reminded the body that by state law they are not allowed to vote on an ordinance before everyone that wants to be heard is heard although it’s sadly not the case on resolutions brought forward which seems to be a favorite ploy of Mr Mayor and other Assembly members. Assemblyman Colver speaking from the sandy beaches in Hawaii made some weak attempts to support the ordinance with statements like look “we have to get our business done” which apparently means he didn’t get the memo that its “the people’s business” he’s elected to do.  Assemblyman Arvin not surprisingly seemingly getting more user friendly by the day now that its an election year added a comment that he didn’t even like the current 3 minute rule on the maximum time to speak.  Perhaps that was just his warm up for later in the agenda when he pulled a couple consent items to comment on what great projects they were and hand out a few atta-boy’s which is not the normal practice or reason for pulling items on the consent agenda.  You get the picture.  The important thing is the PUBLIC with perhaps some help from the common sense editorial in the Frontiersman forced the band of Assembly boys to have a rare and lucid moment.  We didn’t see it coming but we’ll take it!
Yet  another can kicked down the road…or We don’t need no stinkin water rights
For no real reason, a resolution brought forward by Assemblyman Keogh was not greeted with enthusiasm or supported by the ceremonial Mayor or his brethren.   Let’s remember that the ceremonial Mayor has his own stack of resos about every meeting and is practically giddy with anticipation to pass and sign them on the spot.  RESO 12-004 would authorize the manager to establish a water rights public awareness campaign. It would be done through radio public service announcements (which Assemblyman Colligan seemed surprised were FREE) and the rest of the campaign accomplished at a minimum cost through the existing budget.  This would include in-house staff posting information on the borough web site on how to link to DNR to obtain water rights. This just wasn’t good enough to some Assembly members who insisted on a “solid dollar amount for the campaign” before they accepted the resolution. Quite amusing when you consider those same Assembly members want to tack on special meetings and additional attorney time for some pet project, or their own senseless legislation that’s doomed to fall flat with no mention of a solid dollar amount or cost. But now that they have allowed lots of big shovels to be waved about in the borough ready to dig in the water table in an unmapped aquifer and potentially negatively impact homeowners domestic ground water supply or mine in open gravel pits practically in folks back yard, well “Whoa Nelly”!  Some Assembly members and the ceremonial Mayor don’t seem to want to be rushed into helping residents that have 22,000 private wells supplying their drinking water how to protect their rights which seems odd for a body so wrapped around the axel of the people’s “rights”. Who knows what they “boys in the band”are thinking?  Maybe it needed further vetting by their corporate warlords but it won’t see the light of day until Feb 07th. Never mind that two other resolutions on the agenda regarding gas development in Cook Inlet, and one other regarding a Visitors Center in South Gateway slid through like a kid on a icy hill. 
The rest of the meeting isn’t really worth the ink. But the ceremonial Mayor promises more upcoming changes to the agenda and the aviation board (please for the love of fairies someone get this man into a book club or suggest a new hobby) and a hard look at business and inventory taxes (who knew we had them) so we can continue to open the borough for business.  Guess he didn’t get the memo ITS NEVER BEEN CLOSED.  Sigh…..

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Breaks over! Schools back in session!

Okay all you patrons of “Citizen Lobbyist” for the greater good, the holiday break is about to be over.  It’s time for your cliff notes for the next Assembly meeting Tuesday, January 17th @ 6pm.  Packet won’t be out for a few days but here is the warm up to get you in the mood from the “introductions” and what should appear under “unfinished business”.

Got ethics?  Kicked down the road, this is a whopper piece of unfinished business and is bouncing back from the sparsely populated ethics board due to requested changes made by the Assembly, and should be the first item in unfinished business of the night’s agenda. 
We ask you. Can an issue that determines the moral and practical philosophy of our Borough get any more important?  This should be an opportunity to redraft the existing dated code to a foundation that would save taxpayers money, time and frustration.  However, you don’t have to read tea leaves to believe that the majority of this Assembly will not have an appetite for anything other than kicking it a few more times and trying to put the issue to rest with some watered down version that mirrors an already weak and challenged state code. That kind of pointy boot punt in the rear end creates more problems than it solves.  It remains to be seen if more public testimony is allowed, but it’s not too late for you to email your Assembly your thoughts.  Without input, the fate of any ethics code could end up in the ordinance bone yard keeping the tower ordinance company.  Remember the tower ordinance? Hmmm..most residents don’t even know its in the bone yard.  They will though when the 300’ tower goes up next door.

“Please Zamboni me” ordinance-12-001 appropriates $30,000 along with some left over monies from some other tourism building repairs that came in under budget from the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau fund. They want to use the money for replacement of a zamboni ice buffer for Brett Ice Arena.  Important to note here: Tourism collects nearly a million bucks a year for our Borough in bed tax by way of taxing themselves, which is not the norm for any other industry in the Borough. This is important to remember as we travel down the road to the budget.

“Sit down and WE WILL tell you when to speak” ordinance- 2.12.090The hits just keep on coming by the ceremonial Mayor and some Assembly members that seem to now have the Borough Manager doing their bidding to pass yet another ordinance to change the way public comment is received at public meetings.   This gem sets a maximum time limit of one hour for public participation with an OPTION of a time certain where more than an hour of public comment is heard per ordinance.  Changing the way the public weighs in on Borough business by the Assembly and manipulating the agenda has been under constant revision since the swearing in of this ceremonial Mayor.  Perhaps we should suggest another hobby other than public process gerrymandering for Mr. Mayor.

Showing some love for the Sutton Library” ordinance-12-003.The friends of the Sutton Library have done an amazing job of raising donations to contribute to the building of a much needed new library and community center for the area.  This ordinance transfers a big fat donation of $60,000 that was raised by the Friends of Sutton Library for fencing and children’s benches among other things to assist in the completion of the facility.  This is an example of the way communities should work to support the important projects. Let’s hope it gets a green flag and not that some political grandstander at the horseshoe steps into muck it up.
Your Assembly take their seats early (maybe even from China via skype ) by meeting before the regular meeting by what’s become an all too regular spot for a special 4pm meeting.  The Assembly will take another stab at the “procurement code” that Assembly members Colver and Arvin keep complaining needs some sprucing up.  Now aren’t they just the guys with the paint can and brush?  This is a continuation from a meeting on the same subject at the end of last year that mostly consisted of staff instructing Assembly members how the procurement process works.  See earlier CL posting “Assembly doing their duty despite fa la la time of year” of December 15thThere will be much more slipped into the finished packet including the consent agenda and introductions for the upcoming Feb 7th regular assembly meeting. So we’ll keep you posted. 

Meanwhile, thanks to Radio Free Palmer, the audio recorded by the Borough of the December 29th Assembly Planning Session can be accessed at their site to keep your skills as sharp as your watchdog eye teeth.  And while you’re at the RFP site hit the “donation button” and give up some greenbacks to support the efforts of our community radio station. Streaming and podcasting all the regular borough assembly and school board meetings is a huge service this non-profit provides to our area and deserves to be at the top of your list of monetary support vehicles. You should have clicked, picked and given to RFP when you filed for your PFD, but here’s your opportunity to do so again.  Besides, Radio Free Palmer provides a standing invitation to Citizen Lobbyist every Wednesday 8:30am to share the microphone and get the word out on what’s happening in local government.  You can listen at 89.5 FM in the Palmer, Sutton area or stream it live from their website from anywhere in the country..heck there are some regular listeners as far away as Florida that would rather listen than run through the sand or local strip mall. So tune in.

Most of all remember to practice your CL New Year’s Resolutions. Throw on your parka and come warm a chair at the January 17th Assembly meeting at 6pm!  These cowboys need a tight coral and you’re just the folk sitting high in their saddle that can keep em’ from mowing more of the fence posts down.