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In rural Alaska village, entire city council faces campaign fines

Jill Burke

It's not unusual for politicians to get sideways with campaign disclosure rules. A missed report here, an overlooked deadline there. It is, however, strange to have the entire elected leadership for one Alaska community slapped with fines for doing something wrong.

In June, the seven-member council for the rural village of Holy Cross found itself in just that position. None of the council members had turned their public official disclosure forms in by the March 15 deadline, an annual requirement made even more urgent when, as in 2012, the incumbents were asking voters to let them keep their jobs.

In June, the Alaska Public Offices Commission sent letters to council members advising them they'd run afoul of the law and collectively racked up a fine of more than $2,000 -- $10 per official per day their respective report was overdue. Most individual fines ranged from $250 to $280; the biggest was $450 for a report 45 days overdue.

The village didn't mean to fall "off the radar," Holy Cross Mayor Rebecca Demientieff wrote in a letter appealing APOC's decision.

Demientieff blames high turnover since 2009, a lack of experience and awareness, and failure by APOC to educate office holders about disclosure requirements and deadlines.

"It was by accident," she told the commission, urging the body to waive the fines and clean the slate. In a show of good faith, Demientieff offered this pledge: "From here on out the city of Holy Cross will do all they can to make sure these financial disclosure forms are completed annually."

The fines are the latest in a string of bungled oversight that has plagued Holy Cross for some time and inspired a recent recall effort and coup. That effort failed, but the criticism lobbed at the village's leadership had merit, according to The Associated Press, which looked into the claims. In April, the AP concluded, "Holy Cross is a stark example of what can go wrong in the vacuum of an isolated, remote community - unless residents decide to step in."

The AP found that, just as the recall group had alleged, council members had fudged meeting minutes in an attempt to get a $600,000 community grant, had failed to pay workers compensation -- which has since led to a $37,000 fine -- and failed to file financial disclosures for at least seven years.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com