A low-budget campaign by the city of Homer to influence the outcome of Proposition 1 appears to follow state law, Paul Dauphinais, the executive director of the Alaska Public Office Commission, said this week.
Last week, Homer residents received a glossy 5-inch-by-7-inch postcard that says “Vote yes on Prop 1; Keep vital services, suspend HART.” The back of the postcard explains that if passed, Prop 1 would suspend for three years .75-percent of sales taxes from going to the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails fund and divert that money to the general fund. The money would be used to pay for things such as plowing, emergency services, community recreation, parks and the library. That diversion is not a new tax, the card says.
“With the passage of Prop 1 alongside city belt tightening, we can close the budget gap and keep these vital services,” the card reads.
At its Oct. 26 meeting, the Homer City Council passed an ordinance appropriating $6,000 for the special election on Dec. 1. It also appropriated up to $5,000 to influence the Prop 1 election. The ordinance references state law stipulating how cities can influence elections.
Dauphinais said cities can legally influence an election “as long as there is a specific appropriation and it’s made publicly.” If the city passed an ordinance to appropriate money, “It sounds like it’s OK,” he said.
The city has registered as an entity with APOC and has filed an expenditure report. As of Oct. 30, the city has spent $258 in ads with TBC Radio, $480 with KBBI radio for underwriting to inform people about the vote, and $1,443 with Print Works for the mailer. The city also has purchased an ad in this week’s Homer News.
“We have to disclose all our expenses and follow those campaign reporting rules,” said City Manager Katie Koester.
Koester said she does not think the city will spend the full $5,000 appropriated. City Attorney Thomas Klinkner wrote the ordinance regarding the appropriation to influence the election.
In 2009, APOC said the city violated state law when it mailed a brochure, “Questions and Answers about Town Square and the new City Hall,” in advance of a 2008 bond vote that ultimately failed. The brochure put a “yes” vote in a more favorable light than a “no” vote, APOC said, although former City Manager Walt Wrede maintained the intent of the brochure was not to influence the election but to inform citizens.
Koester said in light of that 2009 APOC decision, this time she asked Klinkner to double-check the law.
“I hope that all our bases have been covered,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we did it right.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.