The President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Local 1496) has taken the city of Anchorage, Alaska to court, arguing that a city Councilor had a “substantial financial interest” in the rezoning of 53 acres of land for a Wal-Mart supercenter. Wally Stuart, head of the local union, says that Assemblyman Dan Coffey should have recused himself from the vote and discussion. “Obviously I am with a union that has a lot of conflict with Wal-Mart,” Stuart told the Anchorage Daily News, “but I just don’t believe they did it right, so as a citizen I am filing it.” The lawsuit seeks to overturn the city’s rezoning of the property. Assemblyman Coffey owns 30% of the mall located across the street from the proposed Wal-Mart. Coffey disclosed his ownership interest to the Assembly. The Anchorage Assembly voted that there was no evidence that the Wal-Mart approval would affect Coffey financially. They argued that rents at Coffey’s mall were not based on sales volume, but a flat rate. Stuart says Coffey “eventually became an advocate for the proposed rezoning ordinance.” Coffey’s vote ended up being crucial, because the rezoning needed 8 votes, and passed by 8 votes. The suit also charges that the Assembly should have sent the proposal back to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, because the Assembly made so many changes in the ordinance after Planning and Zoning had rejected it, that it should have been reviewed again by P&Z. The Mayor of Anchorage refused to comment on the lawsuit because the city’s lawyer was out of town.
Sprawl-Busters is not sure why Assemblyman Coffey did not seek the advice of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which gives elected officials “advice regarding the propriety of specific activities under the law,” but now Mr. Coffey’s actions will be scrutinized. It stands to reason that if Wal-Mart draws more traffic into Mr. Coffey’s mall, he can charge higher rentals, because the “demand” for his spaces will go up. In this case, the UFCW President is trying to keep the process honest.