The Fairbanks North Star Borough was established over 50 years ago. There is a lot on their plate, agreed, and it’s easy for everyone to get tangled in the issues of the day.
In the past 8 years or so, the impression of many is that the Legal Department has effectively taken over management decisions rather than being ‘of counsel’ to advise the Administration, Board sand Commissions, and Assembly.
Quite a number of employees have left in recent years frustrated with labyrinthine processes and restrictions in their attempts to be of service to the residents of the FNSB. Many of those who remain share that frustration and are very gun-shy in an effort to cover their … CYA. Boards and Commissions from major ones to Road Service Areas are also subjected and frustrated with FNSB processes and mandates.
My goal with this page is to bring awareness that the FNSB needs to get back to a philosophy of providing service to our residents, rather than putting roadblocks up. Ironically, some of the roadblocks use the Open Meetings Act as an excuse to stifle engagement.
One example of micro-control is the quasi-judicial process used by the Platting Board, Planning Commission, Board of Equalization and perhaps some others. Motivated by a couple of Alaska Superior Court cases – Griswold and Kalen, this process is so constrained that it is difficult for staff and volunteer commissioners/board members to follow, staff has a hard time making sure of all the dotted i’s and crossed t’s and the public gets frustrated or in the worst case, shut out. I have spoken out on this, but, despite a sincere attempt by FNSB Staff and Planning Commission to work out a better process, it got stymied (for now) by a cancellation of all sub-committees over concerns of following the Open Meeting Act, another irony. No other community in Alaska goes anywhere as draconian as the FNSB.
The FNSB uses this definition to qualify those wishing to testify on certain issues:
“Interested persons” means those individuals who are required in this title to be mailed specific notice of a quasi-judicial hearing or who provide an affidavit or other adequate proof that they reside within that hearing notification area or who timely apply to participate and prove that they possess a specific property interest that may be significantly affected by the proposed action in a way different than that of the general public. For purposes of verbal testimony only, interested persons include, when the applicant is a public entity (including an agency, political subdivision or other component unit of the public entity), the citizens of that public entity.
Nobody is perfect and, with a heavily regimented process, it’s easy to make mistakes. While the argument for a restrictive process is meant to reduce future legal challenges, the risk-averse process actually exposes the FNSB to more risk due to the potential for failure to follow those particular restrictions. I think the FNSB would serve the residents better from a risk-aware perspective.
In the coming months, I will be working at various levels to motivate the body to modify this perspective. If you would like to contribute in some way with examples or advocacy, feel free to drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org