The first order of business for the Anchorage Equity Committee, a committee of the Assembly, is to figure a way to get paid.
The Equity Committee met in November and December, and between those two meetings alone spent over an hour discussing how to get money from the city budget for their time.
Perhaps, they said, this could be done through an honorarium that would be appropriated by the Assembly. Suggestions from the body started at $50,000 to $100,000, to be divvied among the committee members in a fashion yet to be determined. The entire membership of the committee appears to be elastic, but at $150 per meeting, attendance and membership might grow, something the co-chair of the committee, Rev. Leon May, said would be a side benefit.
“The Anchorage Equity Committee of the Assembly is a Special Assembly Committee and members represent a variety of community and faith-based groups, and other community perspectives who are underrepresented and have lived experience of systemic inequities. Committee membership will prioritize engaging the necessary perspectives to achieve equity and optimal well-being for all Anchorage residents,” is how the committee is described on the municipal web page devoted to its mission.
The matter of payment for services was discussed at length at the December meeting, when Assemblyman Felix Rivera described how he tried, at the committee’s request, to squeeze the funding into the city budget, but it did not pass. During that December committee meeting, the discussion about funding and appropriate levels of payment went on for an hour. No one seemed to have an idea of how the money would be split up, and whether all members would take an honoraria, or whether some might refuse it and allow the group to use the funds in a different way.
No other committee of the Assembly gets paid for the work it does. Committees are considered volunteer service, but nearly all who serve on the Anchorage Equity Committee believe that being paid to meet once a month is the least the city can do for them.
They started out describing the ask for funds as an honorarium, but later in deliberations expanded the concept to cover community outreach and planning. At one point, an amount of $500,000 was mentioned by the committee.
The Equity Committee majority seems to believe that $150 per meeting is not too much to ask, and sees itself as a different kind of committee than all other committees of the Assembly. The committee has no specific deliverables, nor a business plan, as of yet, but it has published something it considers to be a charter.
Listen to a portion of the November committee meeting at this link, about 10 minutes of the meeting:
Assemblyman Rivera told the committee that honorarium for serving on committees is not provided for in municipal code. He cautioned the committee that “right-wingers” would criticize the group for starting out of the gate by asking for funds that no other committee gets. The committee members did not seem fazed by the anticipated criticism.
The Anchorage Municipal budget for 2023 was $587 million after the Assembly added back items vetoed by the Assembly. The discussion among the equity group was that a mere $60,000 to $100,000 would be a drop in the bucket in the budget, barely noticeable.
The conversation in the December meeting drifted to include not just honoraria, but also vaguely referenced planning and community engagement work. The committee members even discussed that it could give grants or at least advise the Assembly on who to give grants to, and the committee discussed that although a request for the budget that was up for Assembly approval was unlikely to pass on such short notice in 2022, the ask itself would give the group “cover” for another ask in April, when the Assembly takes up budget revisions.
Listen to a portion of the December deliberations about payment for service that the Anchorage Equity Committee wants from taxpayers:
The group’s charter says that initially it was a Department of Health committee that was convened in 2021 to advise the city on vaccine distribution and pandemic response.
“In December 2021, AHD determined it no longer needed to engage with this committee. The members determined they would like to build upon the successful engagement and actions during 2021, remain together as a body, and continue the committee’s advisory role. At the invitation of two Anchorage Assembly members, the committee has re-formed as the Anchorage Equity Committee of the Assembly to work with the Anchorage Assembly to build an equitable, thriving community for all,” the group writes of its history.
The group describes “equity” as “the intentional, consistent, and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to under-resourced communities that have been denied such treatment. These communities include Black, Latino, Alaska Native and other Indigenous, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; immigrant and refugee communities; people with limited English proficiency; persons experiencing disabilities; older adults and elders; veterans; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
The meetings of the Equity Committee do not as of yet include a land acknowledgement, as is done by so many public committees in this era, nor the Pledge of Allegiance.
The committee’s charter was finalized Oct. 6, 2022, and includes no mention of grant-giving, honoraria, or how a committee that requires no ethics oversight would manage a budget without staff.
The committee is co-chaired by Thea Agnew Bemben, a principal and co-founder of Agnew::Beck Consulting, and Rev. Leon May. Other members include Alaska Black Caucus President Celeste Hodge Growden, “Sage Alaska” LGBTQ elder advocate Candace Bell, Anchorage School District Equity Director Sonja Hunt, Catholic Social Services’ Refugee Program Coordinator Issa Spatrisano, Alaska Literacy Program Executive Director Lori Pickett, and Anchorage Assemblymen Felix Rivera and Kameron Perez-Verdia. It has added Mara Kimmel, wife of former Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and executive director of the Alaska ACLU, to its membership.