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OPINION

The Seward City Council has scheduled a special meeting to include an executive session on Monday, September 13 prior to the regular council meeting. The purpose of the executive session is to discuss “electric utility infrastructure.”

How does this violate city code?

The provision in city code the council is to use when it moves into executive session is SCC 2.10.030(b)(1) which allows the council to meet in executive session for, “matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the city.” The provision is often used in an attempt to circumvent the intent of municipal codes and state law in Alaska to hold executive sessions.

Taking the topic stated and the code stated and reading an interpretation most favorable to the citizens – as a court would do – means that after the presentation on the electric utility infrastructure scheduled before the executive session, the “immediate knowledge” of what is said during the discussion during the executive session will “clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the city.”

Unfortunately, no further explanation is needed to justify the executive session.

What’s important to distinguish is, is the information negative, or will the knowledge of it have a negative impact on the city’s finances? Per the code, only the second provision applies. It doesn’t matter how negative the information is, only that the immediate knowledge of the information will have a negative impact on the city’s finances.

This leads to the question, what discussion about the city electric infrastructure would clearly cause a negative impact to the city finances simply because the public knows about the information?

Possible answers:

1. The city electric infrastructure is in poor shape and the city does not have the finances available to pay for upgrades. No matter how unfortunate that would be, it doesn’t have a negative impact on the city’s finances simply because the public knows it.

2. The city needs to raise electric rates to pay for electric infrastructure upgrades. No matter how tough it would be for electric customers, the knowledge would not have a negative impact on the city’s finances just because you know it.

3. The city desires to sell the city’s infrastructure to another party. Certainly, that would have an impact on the city’s finances, but would the knowledge of a pending sale “clearly” have an adverse effect on the city finances? It could potentially be a positive impact.

4. The city electric infrastructure has been misrepresentative in the records of the city. For example, the inventory has been overstated and used for financial purposes such as bonding, so the misrepresentation, if known, could cause a bonding company to revoke the bond. Clearly an acceptable reason for the executive session.

5. The proximity of substations to people may cause cancer in those people. For example, the city has a study linking the location of substations to homes or business that have a higher than normal rate of cancer that can be contributed to the proximity of the substations, thus putting the city in a position to be sued. Again, a possible acceptable reason for the executive session.

Maybe the topic is just uncomfortable to discuss in public, but that doesn’t justify the executive session.

When the Alaska legislature enacted the state’s public meetings laws it was clearly their intent that the public’s business be conducted in public.

It is the people’s business.

Michael Paschall is the publisher of the Seward Journal and covers general news topics. He can be reached at news@sewardjournal.com.

Publisher

Michael Paschall is publisher of the Seward Journal and president of TriDelta, Incorporated Publishing, owners of the Seward Journal.