The controversial Minor Offenses Ordinance has been slightly reworked and was unveiled to the public at a forum in Haines on Tuesday evening. A small crowd showed up to discuss the changes, but most residents who attended still aren’t satisfied. The ordinance is scheduled to go before the assembly for the first public hearing at the end of this month.
The ad hoc committee that was commissioned to comb through the ordinance has spent several months trying to make it a little more digestible and agreeable. The job was, and still is, to make recommendations to the assembly when it comes to fine amounts, fine structure, and weeding out any redundant or archaic violations. Interim manager Brad Ryan said this plight to adopt the ordinance has been going on for three years and, in total, it has cost the borough nearly $17,000 in attorney fees.
On Tuesday, approximately a dozen citizens gathered to hear about the alterations and offer input.
Most chapters in the ordinance have been left as is, and the rest will follow the appropriate committee recommendations. No offenses were removed or added, but at least one has been tweaked.
The committee is recommending that the local law prohibiting skiing on roadways changes so that skiers are treated like pedestrians. If it goes through, skiers will be permitted to glide along on the side of the road. Other questions, like whether contested citations would go to borough staff or to the magistrate have yet to be decided.
Committee member Mike Denker told the crowd that the recommended changes create a kinder, gentler Minor Offenses Ordinance with an emphasis on compliance, not enforcement. But with many unanswered questions, the undertaking is not over yet. Here’s Denker:
“It is the intent to make recommendations, but it’s a work in progress to make sure those recommendations are correct.”
One decision the committee did make was who can enforce the minor rules. Police officers will do the bulk of the enforcement. The harbor master and assistant harbor master will be able to enforce harbor-related offenses. Acting police chief Josh Dryden said most likely one officer would get trained on the ins and outs of the code.
A common thread that weaved its way through the forum was policing for profit, and the potential for over-policing. The committee drafted a new preface to the ordinance that specifically states these rules won’t be used to generate revenue. Eventually, Sgt. Dryden piped up. He said the fears of over-enforcement are unfounded.
“I don’t see where all these people are being hampered by all these laws,” Dryden said. “I find it very distressing that people think that we are going to go out there and take your rights away just because we can. I’m not going to do that.”
The committee decided, in light of a recent court case that the borough lost, to get rid of compounding fines for the same violation. That means a citizen handed a violation can’t be fined repeatedly without getting cited again.
One facet of the ordinance that has not been addressed is clearing up definitions. The committee removed words like “guilty” and “conviction,” but words like “annoy” weren’t clarified. After all, what annoys one member of the public might not annoy another, some argued at the meeting. And annoying the public can results in a $300 fine. Sue Waterhouse was one of several who spoke out at the forum, and questioned the committee’s headway.
“Wasn’t it pages and pages that people didn’t like, and they thought it was too much, and that was the reason people signed the petition?”
Committee member Margaret Friedenauer responded.
“When we got the direction from the assembly, it wasn’t necessarily to look at each individual piece because that was the case: we’re still looking at state statute for these individual minor violations. It was how to process those violations if they happen and how do deal with those violations within our borough. It was the process about the violations, not so much the individual violations. And I know it’s confusing … because I felt your confusion.”
Resident Bill McCord also expressed some concern about the process so far.
“What’s the purpose of this evening?” he asked. “What are we supposed to achieve right here and now, and if we were to achieve anything, what would be done with whatever the achievement is?”
Committee co-chair Ron Jackson said that they were hoping for public input before putting the final touches on the document and it goes before the assembly.
It was brought up at the meeting that until the ordinance is passed, fine schedules are up in the air. So, for example the rules that apply to the harbor can be enforced because they’re still in borough code, but there no fines are attached. That concerned local fisherman Norm Hughes, who is also chair of the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee.
“You voided all harbor code and we cannot enforce in the small boat harbor, or the cruise-ship dock, or the Lutak dock, or the Letnikof dock without this code being passed,” Hughes said. “We’re just getting ready for the season and some people, harbor patrons, or users of borough facilities – they need rules and fines.”
So, after 11 meetings in the last four months, the committee still has some major work on this minor ordinance.
The next committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 11 at 6 p.m. The committee’s recommendations are due to the assembly by April 26.