An administration proposal to eliminate a few municipal boards and commissions and set “sunset dates” for most of those remaining raised some hackles this week. And while I ultimately decided not to support the legislation, its passage isn’t as bad as some might think.
First off, a little about sunset provisions for those unfamiliar with the term; legislative bodies use them to provide a sort of test run of a section of code or compel themselves to revisit an issue. For example, the legislation approving the use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve has a sunset date in 2012 so, unless we pass another ordinance, this coming December 31 will be the last time fireworks are legal in Anchorage.
Their employment with authorizing legislation for boards and commissions is actually pretty common. Indeed, the state has sunset clauses for most (if not all) of its panels that aren’t constitutionally mandated. In that manner the legislature is forced to evaluate how those bodies are performing and can make statutory changes to change direction as they see fit.
In fact, it was the state’s process that ultimately led to my decision to oppose this measure. The recent circus that ultimately led to the demise of the Coastal Zone Management program was actually pretty tame compared to some of the public policy manipulation I’ve witnessed in other sunset extension legislation. Review is good, but renewal can be perilous.
Returning to this week’s action, I worked with Ernie Hall to craft an amendment that I hope will ensure every board or commission subject to a sunset clause gets a fair shake. While the administration’s proposal originally called for the Clerk to simply notify the Assembly with an informational memorandum 90 days prior to a sunset date, I was concerned that would allow an entity to fade away without any real public input. The changes we made will require the Clerk to notify us 120 days in advance and triggers an automatic review by the Internal Auditor. The results of that audit and an ordinance extending the sunset date will then be introduced at least 60 days in advance, which then requires a public hearing and an affirmative vote by the Assembly on the direction they wish to go.
(I also ran a brief series of amendments eliminating sunset clauses for boards I felt were central to municipal government but only one, for the Parks Commission, passed.)
Net effect: those interested in preserving a particular board or commission should keep their eyes peeled each October when a group of them will be up for public consideration. And, of course, be sure to let us know what you think!
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