Rumors of litigation frustrate citizens/Assembly members

7 hours ago

A full house of citizens came to protest legal action they feared the Borough Assembly might consider against Propositions 3 and 4 that were passed by voters in the recent municipal election. Misunderstood language on memorandums and a published agenda started rumors about Assembly action. As KUAC’s Robyne reports, the special meeting left both citizens and Assembly members frustrated with inaccurate information.

Proposition 4 is the Home Heating Reclamation Act. It takes control of regulating polluting wood and coal stoves away from the borough. It dismantles several pieces of borough code that direct pollution monitoring, a woodstove change-out program and helping citizens upgrade their technology.

The special meeting last evening was supposed to update the Assembly with how the code would change, and review what the Assembly should do if anyone wanted to bring a lawsuit challenging the ordinance, which the borough would then defend, as the will of the voters.

When the agenda for the special meeting was published, citizens became alarmed and worried the Assembly was considering litigation… trying to overturn the will of the voters.

“There was a ballot initiative, it was voted on, all the rules were followed. The people voted. And then the Borough Assembly said they were going to get around it.” Joel Baldwin spoke for many about this worry, which frustrated Assembly member Christopher Quist.

Quist: “You said the Assembly was trying to go around these propositions. Are you aware there has been no such attempt?"

Baldwin: "The people here think there is because they’ve been told the Assembly or the Mayor is getting advice on how to overturn the ballot initiatives. That’s why everyone is sitting here tonight.  Yep, yep.’

The short agenda published a few days before the special meeting included the words: “Discussion and direction to the Borough Attorney’s Office regarding possible legal challenges to, and implementation of Proposition 3, An Ordinance Establishing Maximum Allowable Tax Revenues, and Proposition 4, An Ordinance Enacting The Home Heating Reclamation Act.”

John Christensen testified that his understanding of when he voted on the Home Heating Reclamation Act was not a transition to state or federal control, but to individual control. “Prop. 4 was and is not just about local vs outside control. The reclamation part was that individuals want to reclaim control for themselves.”

Borough Mayor Karl Kassel says,  “The way this is set up, it is federal law. They give the state the authority to regulate, the state gives the authority to us, and if we don’t exercise it, it goes back to the state. I have no control over that.”

Earlier in the week, Borough Mayor Karl Kassel began receiving email and phone calls about why the Assembly would challenge the propositions. He says he posted an announcement on the borough website, about what the meeting was for.

“I have responded to 50-60 emails and put my opinion in writing. I don’t know where the rumors got started, but let’s not misrepresent people and tear our community apart.”

Borough Attorney Jill Dolan was not able to give her report until all the public comment was over.

She reviewed several ways people might challenge either law. “There are groups who could file litigation…. I haven’t been contacted by anyone who would file suit… It is something to be aware of in case it happens.”

The special meeting started at 5 p.m., was suspended at 6 p.m. for the regular Assembly meeting, then did not finish until after midnight.

Because Proposition 4 is now law, compliance with the federal Clean Air Act now goes to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Proposition 3 is the renewal of the revenue cap. It requires taxes to stay the same as the previous year, with exceptions calculated by inflation, growth in the tax base, the borough’s bond obligations or legal judgments. Anything else needs to be approved by the voters.

Except for one year, (1995) voters have upheld a renewal of the law since it was enacted in 1987.