Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211
03/30/2009 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 48-MEETINGS OF ROAD SERVICE AREA BOARDS CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 48 and asked for a motion to adopt the committee substitute (CS), version \P. 2:28:56 PM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI moved to adopt work draft CS for SB 48, labeled 26-LS0293\P. There being no objection, version P was before the committee. 2:29:20 PM SENATOR THERRIAULT explained that this version narrows the scope of the bill. It now applies to only municipal service area boards that are established whereas an earlier version talked about other boards and commissions of a local government. This brings it back to the original concept, which is to provide relief [from the Open Meetings Act] to service area commissioners who are trying to make decisions about things like snow removal or protecting a culvert from washing out. Under the open meetings law these mostly volunteer commissioners currently are precluded from talking to one another. 2:30:29 PM KATHY WASSERMAN, Executive Director, Alaska Municipal League (AML), said AML has passed a resolution supporting SB 48. While AML respects and supports the Open Meetings Act, in this circumstance it is hampering road and fire service areas in conducting business. If two people stop alongside the road to discuss matters related to that road service area, it can be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. This bill will enable business like plowing a road to get done without having to call a meeting. CHAIR FRENCH asked how many municipal service area boards are in the state. MS. WASSERMAN replied most of them are in the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). CHAIR FRENCH asked if Anchorage uses a different model. SENATOR THERRIAULT said Anchorage has road powers. Service areas are only formed by neighborhoods or small communities where the borough government doesn't have general road powers. SENATOR MCGUIRE added that Hillside has a road service area. 2:33:06 PM CHAIR FRENCH asked how many members a road service area board has. MS. WASSERMAN replied as a rule there are three, which is why it's such a problem. Under the Open Meetings Act three or more members constitutes a quorum for an assembly or council meeting, but an advisory board meets quorum with just two people. CHAIR FRENCH asked Senator Therriault if Section 2 addresses that issue. SENATOR THERRIAULT said he believes so, but he would defer to the borough attorney. Years ago these boards had five commissioners, but it became increasingly difficult to find five volunteers who were willing to take on the responsibilities and receive the angry calls for no benefit. 2:34:30 PM RENE BROKER, Attorney, Fairbanks North Star Borough, said she is speaking on behalf of the borough in support of SB 48. The bill fixes the unintended consequences of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) without diluting its important public policy goals. Paid employees are already exempt from the OMA requirements because it's recognized that they can't perform day-to-day administrative functions and provide service to the public and also comply with the OMA. Service areas for roads and fire are small and lack resources to hire employees so state law authorizes these boards to perform administrative functions. However, the commissioners aren't exempt from the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. SB 48 extends the exemption that's applicable to paid employees to the narrow circumstance when a service area board is performing the same administrative functions. The commissioners are acting on a volunteer basis and talking about whether it's a good idea to remove snow now versus later or whether this culvert should be fixed rather than another one. The second change clarifies that when members of a governmental body gather in a meeting, the same numerical standard that currently applies to policy making bodies also applies to advisory bodies. It makes no sense that an advisory body that is only making recommendations should live under a higher standard than an assembly. It's a trap for the unwary; people who are simply trying to volunteer can inadvertently violate the Open Meetings Act. 2:37:29 PM CHAIR FRENCH asked if this is a proactive measure or if people are actually being attacked because of supposed violations of the open meetings laws. MS. BROKER replied it's both. She's seen people come under attack when their mistake was very inadvertent. It's a painful public embarrassment for this to happen. A road service area committee asked for this change so it can do business and comply with the Act. CHAIR FRENCH asked if she thinks that passing this bill will make it less likely that road service area boards will continue to meet on a regular basis. MS. BROKER explained that the 107 service areas in the FNSB have eight duties under the borough code and seven of those duties require meetings. The only duty this bill exempts is supervising the actual conducting and providing of the services. Some people get around the meeting requirement by delegating all the decision making to just one person. The problem is that the service area loses out when just one person is making all the decisions for a particular project. The full board needs to discuss the issue and make a decision, she said. 2:40:08 PM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI referenced page 2, lines 22-23, and asked if she reads the current section to mean that two people getting together would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. MS. BROKER said absolutely. The language in subparagraph (A) is the numerical standard that is applicable to policy making bodies and SB 148 adds that same numerical standard to subparagraph (B). Right now there is no numerical standard in (B) so if there is a gathering of two it's a meeting. SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI said he'd like to think through the potential ramifications because this will impact more than just municipal service area boards. CHAIR FRENCH said he agrees and he'd like to give it some thought before moving the bill. 2:41:39 PM RONALD HILLINGWORTH, Chair, 23 Mile Slough Road Service Area in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, stated support for SB 148. He said the current law does not exempt road service areas from the public meeting requirements, which makes it nearly impossible to conduct routine administrative and managerial business without posting notification a week or more in advance and holding a subsequent public meeting. Service area commissioners are responsible for implementing maintenance contracts on service area roads. That entails calling out the contractor to do work but the commissioners can not talk among themselves about that work without having a public meeting. They can't stop along side the road to talk and they can't send emails to talk about plowing a road after a snow storm. The current public meeting law makes it nearly impossible to conduct routine business without breaking the law. 2:45:43 PM LUKE HOPKINS, Assembly Member, Fairbanks North Star Borough and Board Member, Alaska Municipal League, spoke in support of the current committee substitute for SB 48. The proposed exemption in Section 1 to allow commissioners to meet to perform administrative functions is a reasonable action. With respect to Section 2 and what constitutes a meeting, he said he is often asked why commission members that advise or make recommendations operate under more restrictive conditions than a body that has the authority to establish policy. SENATOR MCGUIRE asked if there was a particular incident in the Fairbanks area that served as a catalyst. MR. HOPKINS replied it's probably the sheer number of commissions and the number of actions that commissioners undertake that has made them acutely aware of the problem with the Open Meetings Act. 2:49:22 PM SENATOR MCGUIRE said we need to know if there's an ongoing complaint in the Fairbanks area that the committee may not be privy to. MR. HOPKINS said a resolution was passed to the borough assembly and this does seem like a reasonable exemption consideration. Section 2 goes back to the issue of commissioners not wanting to inadvertently violate the Open Meetings Act and the requirement for public notice. "It just seems that it's somewhat of an oversight consideration between a commissioner and an elected official for the public meeting notice." CHAIR FRENCH closed public testimony and announced he would hold SB 48 for further consideration.