Several borough committees are tasked with combing through a minor offenses ordinance that has alarmed some Haines residents. That was the consensus at the Haines Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday evening, where the first public hearing of the ordinance was conducted.
The minor offenses ordinance compiles all the low-level violations that already exist in borough code, and assigns a fine to each of them. It will bring the borough into compliance with Alaska Supreme Court rules on minor offense procedures. But the 14-page violation list has brought to light restrictions that some residents and elected officials see as excessive. At Tuesday’s hearing, a few residents spoke against it.
“I’m standing here with my hat in my hand saying this needs to deeply reviewed earnestly,” said Kyle Ponsford.
“I cannot overstate how bad an idea it is to codify poorly written unused and uneeded laws,” said Shane Horton. “We need to clean up our existing code completely before doing anything else. Our code, our laws are a mess.”
Borough lawyers who have drawn up the ordinance say it creates a streamlined enforcement process for violations that are currently scattered throughout code. For most minor offenses, people would get a citation and either pay a fine or contest it in municipal court.
But the main concern people have expressed is that some of the offenses just seem unnecessary.
“You know, there’s one in there that says I think a $30 fine for walking against a walk signal,” said Assemblyman Ron Jackson. “But that doesn’t apply to Haines, we don’t have streetlights.”
(It’s a $25 fine for “pedestrian not to cross against ‘don’t walk’ signal.”)
Borough manager Dave Sosa says one goal of the ordinance has already been accomplished.
“To make people aware of what the law says and what the fines are so that people have an understanding of it,” Sosa said. “That’s one of the key objectives of this. One of the things we’ve seen is that there are concerns with ordinances that are on the books.”
Because of those concerns, at least four committees have been tasked with going through different parts of the ordinance. The public safety commission has already gone through more than 100 public-safety related violations. They plan to forward a recommendation to the assembly at a special meeting this Friday at noon. The Government Affairs and Services committee, which initially planned to go through the whole ordinance, will now go through some of it, starting next Monday at 6 p.m. The Port and Harbor Advisory Committee will likely consider harbor-related violations at a meeting Thursday at 10:30 a.m. And the tourism advisory board expects to go through tourism-related offenses but there is no meeting scheduled yet.
All of the committees’ recommendations will go before the borough assembly for approval.
Another concern about the ordinance is who gets to cite people for the minor offenses. The way it’s written now, the ordinance gives that power to the borough manager, along with borough employees he designates. At Tuesday’s meeting, Sosa said he agreed with members of the public, that there should be a discussion about who is authorized and what training they are required to take. He says that could be dictated in borough policy or code.
Even though much of the ordinance is up in the air, its second public hearing is still scheduled for the borough assembly’s September 8th meeting.