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Conflict of Interest? Under whose definition?
by Bobbie McCreary


September 10, 2004

I watched with dismay on Tuesday night while an elected Borough Assemblyperson was denied his right to cast a vote because of his conflict of interest. Puzzled about how this could be true, I then went to my computer to do some research on this topic, finding first of all that the bible for Boards, Robert s Rules of Order generally does not apply to government bodies. I then researched the Alaska Statutes and found this statutory definition of Elected Officials Conflict of Interest as posted by the Division of Community Advocacy, Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development.

The conflict of interest law applies to all elected or appointed municipal officials or employees. State law AS 29.20.010 makes it illegal for a municipal official or employee to participate in an official action in which he or she may have a substantial financial interest and requires that each municipality adopt a conflict of interest ordinance requiring that:

  • A member of the governing body declare a substantial financial interest they might have in an action to be decided and ask to be excused from the vote;
  • The presiding officer rule on whether or not a conflict of interest exists and whether the member should be excused from voting;
  • A majority vote of the governing body is required to override the decision of the presiding officer; and
  • Any municipal employee or officer, other than the governing body, may not participate in an official action in which they may have a substantial financial interest.

This statute also provides that if a municipality has not adopted a conflict of interest ordinance the provisions of this statute automatically apply.

Another state law, AS 39.50.020 (see Current Alaska Statutes), requires that public officials file a financial disclosure statement to identify any financial or business interest that might present a conflict of interest. A municipality may, after holding an election and putting the question before the voters, exempt itself from the filing requirement if a majority of the voters authorize the exemption. (AS 39.50.145). The Alaska Public Offices Commission administers this law.

Finally, I searched the Ketchikan Gateway Borough website and found that indeed the Borough had adopted Ordinance No. 970 (amended effective 6/4/96) adding Chapter 5.37 entitled Conflict of Interest stating as its purpose, to set reasonable standards of conduct for elected and appointed public officials, and for borough employees, so that the public may be assured that its trust in such persons is well placed and that the officials and employees themselves are aware of the high standards of conduct demanded of persons in like office and position.

Aligned with the State statute, Section 5.37.030, Conflict of Interest Elected Borough Officials reads, An elected borough official may not participate in any official action in which he/she or a member of his/her household has a substantial financial interest. (The following URL takes you to the first page of Ordinance 970 that is too long to restate here.)

The Borough s ordinance clearly refers to "substantial financial interest" which does not seem to be the case for Assemblyman Landis who served for a short period of time as a Board member of the Arts Center steering committee.

Yes, I am in favor of redeveloping our downtown area and beginning that effort with a new Arts Center. However, I am even more in favor of our elected assembly conducting its governmental affairs in a legal and ethical manner demonstrating the high standard of conduct demanded by the public stated in the purpose of Ordinance 970.

Bobbie McCreary
Ketchikan, AK - USA



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