Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance lost control of the public hearing about the forced masking of Anchorage, which continued on Thursday night.
She started on the wrong foot with the crowd, after she passed a rule forbidding Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and Mayor Dave Bronson from addressing any more testifiers with their questions. She called their questions dilatory — a delay tactic.
The crowd went into resistance mode after seeing the Assembly take an action the people viewed as a hostile act.
They came to the mic to testify, and when they didn’t use all of their three minutes allowed, they stood there and stared until the clock ran out.
One child spoke at the mic for a minute, talking about how hard it is for her and her friends to be constantly masked, and then the child stood silently, until someone in the audience started whistling “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and soon most of the audience was singing along.
The audio-visual worker running the Assembly’s YouTube channel for the public cut the sound, but the singing continued until the child’s three minutes had finished. The crowd cheered.
Later, in a similar situation where the speaker had not used up her time, the crowd broke into a full rendition of the National Anthem, while LaFrance leaned over to get advice from Assemblyman Felix Rivera. She was no longer in the position to bang the gavel during the National Anthem, but she didn’t face or listen to the crowd.
It’s been six nights of testimony and the people still come, night after night in an attempt to keep testifying in order to delay the vote on the law that the Assembly seeks to pass that would force all of Anchorage into masks. The ordinance is under consideration after the Assembly majority advanced it to the agenda during a nearly secret meeting at the end of September.
On Thursday night, after LaFrance muzzled the mayor and Allard, the mayor dismissed the security guards and Adam Trombley, director of the city’s economic and community development department, walked out to the podium and removed the Plexiglas barricade, to the cheering of the public.
As things were clearly not going the direction of the Assembly majority, LaFrance then tried to move the meeting to a small room in City Hall on Friday starting at 9 am, to ensure that no more testifiers would attend. The room the Assembly uses at City Hall only holds about 40 people. That failed after it became transparent that what was going on was an attempt to keep the public out.
“It really does appear that we are trying to exclude public testimony,” said Assemblywoman Jamie Allard.
The audience booed the idea and City Manager Amy Demboski said there were not enough police resources to provide security, and she suggested 5 pm Friday or any evening next week.
Assemblyman Chris Constant, calling in over the phone, accused the Administration of trying to control the time and manner during which the Assembly would meet, something refuted by Demboski.
Assemblywoman Austin Quinn-Davidson, who no longer attends meetings in person, said over the phone that it was “an unruly, disrespectful meeting. I can’t believe I am witnessing this!”
Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel, also phoning in her comments, said her ordinance was “in response to a public health emergency. We have a tool we need to debate so we can possibly deploy that tool to help a public health emergency … It has been readily apparent that there is intention delay to getting to debate on this item.”
Allard responded that there is no public health emergency that she was aware of, either from the governor or the mayor of Anchorage.
Ultimately the Assembly chose to compromise and continue the hearing at 3 pm on Friday; the public hearing cannot be closed any earlier than 6 pm, with an end of the meeting set at 10 pm. The meeting will be in the Assembly chambers in the Loussac Library.