Anchorage Assembly violates letter and spirit of Alaska Open Meetings Act

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A MUST READ ALASKA EDITORIAL

For weeks, the business of the people of Anchorage has been conducted in what can be fairly described as a political cloister.

In late July, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz forbade the public from entering the Loussac Library’s Assembly Chambers, which is the seat of government in Anchorage.

The public may not observe the Assembly, nor the Planning Commission, nor any other quasi-judicial body performing the public’s business, except via a camera operated at the direction of the Assembly. There is no independent observation, just the government-controlled camera.

The State of Alaska’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. The act also says the meetings may be attended by the public via teleconferencing.

But it’s highly doubtful that the authors of the Open Meetings Act ever intended that meetings conducted in a highly accessible city like Anchorage would be held behind locked and guarded doors, where the taxpayers and civically minded are kept out, even though they have made the effort to get out of their easy chairs and get their weary bodies down to the Assembly Chambers to monitor the political process.

Chapter AS 44.62.312 states that governmental units exist “to aid in the conduct of the people’s business; it is the intent of the intent of the law that actions of those units be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly; the people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them;  the people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know; the people’s right to remain informed shall be protected so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created; the use of teleconferencing under this chapter is for the convenience of the parties, the public, and the governmental units conducting the meetings.”

The section also says that exceptions must be constructed narrowly so as to “avoid exemptions from open meeting requirements and unnecessary executive sessions.”

What is going on at the Anchorage Assembly is the big work-around, designed by Mayor Berkowitz with his emergency powers, and aided and abetted by the presiding officers of the Assembly — Chair Felix Rivera and at other times Vice Chair Meg Zalatel.

The mayor has been granted extended executive powers by the Assembly, and he has used those powers to burden the public. Now he uses them to also exclude the public, so that they may not look their lawmakers in the eyes while laws are broken, spending is appropriated, and ordinances are passed.

The defense will be, of course, that it is televised, but that is a defense that cannot stand. Nowhere in the history of the State have people been under orders to not attend public meetings, and the use of cameras is an inadequate substitute. Viewers cannot see the entire body of lawmakers, but are limited to watching one or two at a time; indeed some of the lawmakers are not even attending the meetings themselves. Viewers are only seeing what the cameraman allows them to see. Anchorage voters cannot see if the mayor is in the back of the room conferring with his advisers, or on the phone. The public cannot witness if their lawmakers are chatting off camera during testimony.

Those who signed up to testify by phone are occasionally hung up on mid-sentence, or they cannot put their views on the record at all because the call-back to them from the clerk does not go through for one reason or another.

The Anchorage Assembly is deep into troubled waters with its flouting of the Alaska Open Meetings Act, and it’s provoking a lawsuit. Already, one member is now subject to recall (Meg Zalatel) for being arbitrary and capricious with the “no public” rule, by inviting one member of the public into the meeting for the purpose of testimony, while excluding all others.

The Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel went further, as she tried to explain why a protest of that emergency order was illegal:

To be clear, the Assembly in Juneau is also in violation of the Open Meetings Act, as it conducts its meetings remotely via Zoom, without the public being present. Assembly members do not need to feel the heat of public condemnation when they’re comfortable in their own castles.

Anchorage is now on Day 164 of the Mayor’s Emergency Powers. On Tuesday, the Assembly will hold yet another secretive meeting, at which it will tackle the controversial ban on “gender confusion conversion therapy” for those under 18 years. That proposed law would mean therapists can encourage young people to follow their gay impulses, but cannot advise them to not do so. The ordinance is being advanced by the three openly gay members of the Assembly and the public is not allowed in the building once again.

They’ll also take up a new tax proposal on vaping products. They’ll decide issues concerning who will have emergency powers if the mayor becomes incapacitated. They’ll vote on establishing an Office of Equity and Justice under the mayor. And the mayor will be asked to give a report on what he has done lately; it is unlikely he will discuss his violations of the Open Meetings Act.

How long will the cloistered meetings go on? How long will the public be prevented from looking their lawmakers in the eye? When will the voters say they’ve had enough?

36 COMMENTS

  1. City Attorney must have gotten her law license from a Cracker Jack Box. She clearly can not read nor comprehend the law as written which is clear as day.

  2. Thank you! And what is the Anchorage Assembly doing addressing sexual and counseling issues, wasting time when they should be addressing economy and business concerns?
    Its time for a Class Action lawsuit !

  3. We have elections to decide whether our elected officials are acting in the public interest. IMO the no public access Assembly is no different than the State legislature in Juneau which also limits access to public hearings due to location. The article does acknowledge that the Assembly meets the teleconferencing requirements in AS, as does the State legislature. I have not read of any lawsuits contesting the Mayor’s actions. More entertainment and pot stirring from MKRA.

    • To accept the behavior of an elected body and mayor acting in concert to bypass the will of the population is to be a slave. These idiots are making an effort to advance an unaffordable premise, using the “homeless” population as a shill, in the interest of enriching a few. The result will be the further taxation of the property owners to support the homeless industrial complex that has exploded in Anchorage over the last 20 years. Recall petitions are drafted and will be walked through the districts to get these self indulgent miscreants off the assembly. I feel it also should be addressed in court as to the legality of adding sales taxes one at a time to subvert the municipal charter regarding imposition of sales taxes.

    • Yes and we have the vote to replace the little man who thinks he is king. There are many ways to let the public voice be heard the problem is they don’t like what he is doing so he shut them out plain and simple. He could hold the meeting at the Sullivan and seat more people and the assembly could male it and 8 hour day and start at 7am like the school kids or any hard working tax payer.

  4. The city attorney was hired for her political view point, not her legal acumen. Berkowitz, Rivera, Dunbar, Zaletal, et al, have created nothing less than a cartel, dealing in the purveying of public funds to a select few under the guise of aiding the homeless. The inference that there exists any reasonable argument to the shady activities of our city directors, and the exclusion of the people that pay the bills, exposes the core of the problem, sheep that can’t think for themselves.

  5. This entire scam by the little guy and his assembly is nothing but a diversion from the real goal. True, it imposes dictatorial conditions on Alaskans, but the real issue is “vote by mail”. At best, the diminutive dictator’s endless, unneeded “political employees”‘ days are numbered if conservatives vote, in person. At worst, with mail-in-voting, we lose it all. Every move ethan, et.al. makes has an ulterior motive. Distract the largest concentration of Alaskan voters from the real issue with insulting, leftist, unconstitutional secret meetings, illegal conduct of elected officials, unconstitutional ‘mandates’, the list is endless. The real end game is leftist control of all of us. “Vote-by-mail” is their newest and nastiest weapon. Democracy??

  6. The library is a public place it sounds like the people who want to attend the meetings should have a state trooper present and when the person at the door prevents entry that person should be arrested and anyone else preventing entry should also be arrested. They are breaking state laws it’s time to end the corruption.

  7. Where’s the State Attorney General? AWOL along with the Governor? Who’s running this state? Anne Zink and Ethan Berkowitz?

    • The State Attorney General is busy having dinner (cozy, maskless dinner..) with Lisa Murkowski et all. Check out J Wallace’s July 10 Facebook post…
      The hypocrisy knows no bounds.
      They’re “all in this together!”

    • Well of course little Annie Wunderkind and Mayor Berkowitz. I’ve kept a running list of the “Data Summary Tables”on the State Coronavirus Website, for two months, and there are discrepancies I’ve noticed in the small details since August 1, from day to day, especially in the Anchorage figures. Maybe my “old” eyes are mistaken, and maybe there’s some occluded small print on the website, but I still know how to add and subtract. Snort!

  8. The open meetings act is being violated in the Matsu borough as well, and likely all over the state. And it is not just the inability to see everything going on, as when there are no public ‘present’ there is a gap in accountability. Also, when testimony is given one at a time over the phone and the speaker is not visible, there is minimal impact. There are various platforms such as TEAM and Zoom in which people can log in and technically be visible and these platforms work fine for those attending the meetings but not so well for the public at large.

    In the Matsu valley, the platting board is having a ‘no holds barred‘ heyday. No public attendance allowed, and the public can only listen if testifying and only over the phone. It has been a long season of rubber stamping for very impactful developments across the valley and no accountability for this quasi-judicial board, whom are not even elected, yet wield huge power. All in all, this isn’t just a ‘Berky’ problem.

    • Elizabeth, yes I agree that the open meetings act is being violated all over the
      State, however in Anchorage it seems that the Mayor and his ilk are using it as a tool to advance their unpopular and frankly lawless agenda. Berkowitz is using the “pandemic” (40 people actually in hospital in the whole State…) as a spring board for his tyrannical actions. It is regrettable when leaders violate the law. I hope that the people in Anchorage will rise up and raise hell!

    • That is right. There is a tiny bit of wobble depending on the state, but Texas’ recent estimate, for instance, is a 98.7% recovery rate. In Alaska, using total deaths out of total positive cases, as of 8/23/20 the death rate is is 32/4741, or 0.0067. Since there are so many people who never even know they have it (approximately 80% of people who test positive never even have symptoms), and some of the “covid deaths” were not actually due to covid infections, that means the real death rate is even lower. Even so, if you assume that everyone who does not die recovers (!), that means AK currently has > 99% recovery rate.

    • Yes, that is correct. However, social media and other sources do their best to keep people from hearing anything other than the Covid mantra they put out. The majority of those “cases” you hear about may or may not even have symptoms. Since Covid is closely related to the normal flu, it’s not always easy for tests to differentiate. Some tests show a positive if someone had a cold earlier in the year. Some tests show positive if someone got the flu shot. It is the elderly and those with other medical issues that are the most at risk. Remember, too that in 2017/2018 according to CDC- nearly 80,000 people died from just the normal seasonal flu. None the less, people respond out of fear. Fear is a great way to control people. That’s why the Mayor says a return to normalcy is far from over. As long as people are in fear, he can maintain his power.

  9. The emperor and his court jesters have no alligence to anyone but each other. They hate voters and not only the constitution but the city charter.

    • Follow the money in the purchase of local buildings for the homeless. Follow the contracts for mental health services; follow the “beneficiaries” in the purchases of the buildings and the “mental health services”. May God bless and help the homeless who are indeed suffering, but they are pawns in this political money grab. May our established community efforts help the homeless, but this money grabbing scheme is not the way, in my humble opinion. Using this money grabbing scheme on the backs of the homeless is an abomination. And yes, I help with my donations. And I will as always.

  10. To the Citizens of Anchorage Alaska,
    When do the citizens of Anchorage get to call for a vote of no confidence on the people we elected. Can we also have a government wide recall for the mayor and the Assembly?. We need to stop the illegal functioning of our current administration.
    Reverend Marc Baisden.

  11. Berkowitz and the assembly have to go. They represent the same level of lawlessness and tyranny that inspired The Declaration of Independence. They are betraying the principles and public trust that they were elected and appointed to maintain. I w would support the death penalty for all of them at this point.

  12. If the Open Meetings Act applies to the MOA – and I do not think that is in doubt – that State statute cannot be overridden by an enactment of the Assembly. Even the Anchorage Assembly and the Mayor are subject to State law. Best remedy is as Suzanne suggests: A citizen needs to file a complaint in Superior Court. Then the leftist judges in the State Court System can start making a mockery of the law, logic and common sense.

  13. Great comment – meanwhile, how do we “commoners” organize to get rid of voting by mail? I truly believe mail-in voting is the way this administration is planning to advance its progressive agenda. Keep the citizenry dumbed down (ala ASD), doped up (legalized marijuana), and compliant. May the good Lord have mercy on us all.

    • Thanks for your articulate summation Suzanne!
      The ‘Mayor and Assembly of Deceipt’ must feel they have free rein under the guise of this media altered Covid-19 emergency, as it pertains to Anchorage. I.E., my car has a flat tire thus I am justified in buying an RV to house my drinking buddies, with your money, that is meant to support businesses and jobs.
      UC Berkeley made be proud of the mayor and his conspirators, but this old dog has one leg hoisted in rebuke.

  14. Could the powers that be that “rule” Anchorage possibly be any more corrupt, deceitful, or power hungry?

  15. I do not like being in Anchorage because too many people glare at my MAGA hat. I’m worried that people will vandalize my truck cause I have a Trump/Pence bumper sticker. And the worst thing is when you go to a store you are told to wear a stupid mask, which Usually leads to angry words. So I was wondering why there are so many sheep who don’t understand or don’t care they are being controlled by the radical left, liberal democrats. After driving around town for a few days I realized the answer was plain to see. It’s the drugs. There is a marijuana shop on every street. They are selling dope all day, every day. Except for people who have accepted Christ as their savior and Trump supporters, everyone else is too high to think. They just smoke weed, eat munchies, and play on their computers. We need a candidate for mayor who will end this silent epidemic of laziness and stupidity. Either Mead Treadwell or Dan Fagan could get 65% of the vote by campaigning on the platform that he will make the possession of marijuana a felony with a mandatory 10 year sentence. Conviction for selling would be a minimum of 25 years. A second offense would mean life in prison with the murders and rapists. By 2022 the town could be drug free and people would wake up and realize that the leftest liberals plot to destroy Anchorage must be defeated by any means possible. I would work hard to support a brave conservative leader like Mead. Stop the democrats before it’s too late.

    • How do you propose paying for the prisons and hiring enough guards to lock up 300,000 Alaskans for life? Interesting argument for someone who complains about living under the current mayoral dictatorship.

  16. I never thought I would see Alaska go communist. But in Juneau and Anchorage communism has taken hold. We definitely need to be a lawsuit and we need to start demonstrating every day in great numbers. I’ll be there tomorrow night

  17. Dear Eric S – your MAGA hat is welcome to me.. For the past couple of years I’ve dreaded the occasional short trip to Anchorage, mainly because it is decaying from the wonderful memories I have of walking the Coastal Trail, the beautiful flowers downtown, and visiting with tourists who needed directions to a point of interest. I so miss that. I truly hope we will have a change in administration and restore this beautiful City. I pray for the restoration of Anchorage – It is one of a kind, and I was once so proud to call it my home for over 60 years.

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