At Sunday’s “Community Conversation” with the Alaska Black Caucus, the majority of the Anchorage Assembly attended and spoke at length about topics that are active agenda items and litigation matters with the Assembly.
The general public had no idea that the meeting was taking place and thus had no meaningful way to participate.
The meeting, conducted by Zoom, was expressly designed by ABC to have Assembly members present to talk about items in active status with the governing body.
Assembly members Chair Suzanne LaFrance, Vice Chair Chris Constant, Felix Rivera, John Weddleton, Kameron Perez-Verdia, and Crystal Kennedy attended the meeting, which was unadvertised on the Assembly’s own web page.
The Assembly put a notice on another municipal calendar, which is a little-known and hard-to-locate page on the Municipal website. The public usually looks for Assembly meetings on the Assembly’s calendar not on the public notices calendar.
The Alaska Black Caucus was awarded $437,000 by the Assembly last year using CARES Act money, so the group could buy a building that will essentially become an arm of the Democratic Party.
The state’s Open Meetings Act (AS 44.62. 310-. 312) requires that all meetings of a public entity’s governing body be open to the public and that the body provide “reasonable” notice of its meetings. This meeting was noticed on one hard-to-find calendar, but not on the Assembly’s own calendar. The topic given on the public notice calendar was “reapportionment,” but other active-status topics were discussed at length.
At the beginning of the meeting, the group talked about redistricting. The Assembly is the redistricting board for the redrawing of the political lines in Anchorage for the new Assembly districts. Assemblyman Constant, chair of the Assembly’s Redistricting Committee, led most of the discussion.
During the discussion, School Board President Margo Bellamy posed the question and proposal that the Anchroage Municipality eliminate district boundaries altogether and have all Assembly members elected areawide, as they are on the Anchorage School Board. That idea was gently dissuaded by members of the Assembly and by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, who was also in the meeting.
The group also discussed the matter of Emergency Ordinance 91 that has enacted a mask mandate everywhere in Anchorage. Assemblyman Felix Rivera said that if the ordinance were to be continued after December 31, when it expires, he would only vote for it if it was again an emergency ordinance. This constitutes another violation of the Open Meetings Act, as Rivera was telling the others how he will vote in advance of the question.
The Assembly also spoke about Clifford Armstrong III, the chief equity officer who was fired by the Anchorage mayor, and replaced by someone Uluao “Junior” Aumavae. That matter is currently in litigation as the Assembly has sued the mayor for firing Armstrong.
During that part of the discussion, Assemblyman Constant said that the mayor was trying to drive a wedge between the Samoan community and the black community by appointing a person of Samoan heritage to the position as he replaced Armstrong, who is black.
In the summer of 2020, the Assembly passed Emergency Ordinance 15, which closed all the Assembly meetings to the public, and drew a lawsuit against the Assembly, which is still being negotiated with the Alaskans for Open Meetings public interest group.
Again in October 2021, the Assembly passed a rule that cuts in half the number of people allowed in the Assembly Chambers, to control public participation during a time when the Assembly has been under pressure by disgruntled citizens.
There seems to be little remedy to the violations of the Open Meetings Act, especially since the Assembly can tuck notification for it meetings in unexpected places on the municipal website, and then claim that the meetings are in compliance with the term “reasonable notification.”
Watch the meeting at this link: