The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night voted to take over the authority for the Youth Advisory Commission from the mayor’s office, in spite of the objections of the mayor, the public, and the youth commission members.
Members of the Youth Advisory Commission spoke against it led a silent protest, as the public at the Tuesday meeting joined in by taping their mouths in solidarity against the ordinance advanced by Assembly Chairwoman Suzanne LaFrance. After a few minutes, people began humming the Star Spangled Banner through their taped mouths.
Those voting against the takeover were Assembly members Kevin Cross, Randy Sulte, and Jamie Allard.
In the past, the YAC was made up of more liberal youth members during the Berkowitz Administration. Then, during Covid-19 pandemic policies, the youth did not meet and the commission essentially fell apart. It came back together under Mayor Dave Bronson with a diverse but politically more balanced group of young people ages 14-22; the youth voted that Sarah Price of Chugiak would be the group’s representative to the Anchorage Assembly in the non-voting position created by the Assembly.
Price, confirmed to her Assembly role in May, has turned out to be a thorn in the side for the Assembly’s Leftist majority, leading to the ordinance to put the kids under the authority of the Assembly. The Youth Advisory Commission said it was an ambush.
Assemblyman Kameron Perez-Verdia said he was saddened that the “children” of the youth commission were being “used” politically as pawns by the Bronson Administration. Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance allowed the impugning of the mayor’s motives, something she is supposed to rule out of order.
Mayor Bronson said the YAC members under the authority of the Assembly would be subject to indoctrination under the leadership on the Assembly.
Testimony received went heavily against the Assembly. Members of the Youth Advisory Commission said they were never told about the ordinance. Neither was their adviser in the Mayor’s Office, Brice Wilbanks. Nor was the mayor told about the ordinance.
Rebekah Dunfee, who is currently the YAC chairwoman, told the Assembly that she could feel the hatred from the Assembly toward the group. Allard, clearly in the corner of the YAC, said that on behalf of the Assembly, she apologized for how the Assembly had made the YAC members feel and said no person should be treated like that by the Assembly.
Assemblyman Randy Sulte, who opposed the ordinance, called it a “Trojan horse to take away ability of youth to pick their member to assembly.”
Assemblyman Kevin Cross said he has been highly impressed with Sarah Price, the youth representative on the Assembly who is currently in basic training for the military. “I was wildly impressed the first time I heard her speak. Do we need to expand the [YAC]? We don’t expand youthful participation by increasing Assembly control.”
Assemblywoman Allard read a letter from Anchorage School Superintendent Deena Bishop:
“A young leader, Rebekah Dunfee, contacted me regarding your upcoming vote to create an Ordinance to select your youth representative to the Assembly. She shared that you are modeling your youth voice after the ASD student member. Her concern was around your direct selection rather than your allowance of the youth commission to choose who represents them. Please know ASD does not interfere with student elections of its representative to the School Board.
“While the ASD Board does appoint a student member, this member is selected from his/her peers in our student government organization, the Student Advisory Board. I have included our policy language regarding this.
“I have met your outgoing student member; and she has spoken at our joint meeting recently. She is a strong leader. She has advocated at ASD Board meetings for many years. Sarah Price is smart and engaging. She also has expressed many differences of opinion from me. I expect this conflict as while we are both leaders, we sit in different places. Hence, our stand on issues is different and complex. I value her leadership, while not agreeing on all her assertions. She is, by far, one of the most researched and articulate 18 year olds I have known!
“The fear from our city’s youth is that you are taking away their voice (or controlling who speaks) because you do not agree. I would caution this move. We often ask why our kids don’t speak up—perhaps it is because we adults are not listening when they do. From a person who received criticism from Sarah and other youth during the trying times of the pandemic, it was their voice that mattered most. It counted, always.
“ASD does not limit comment nor supersede our student voice. It is raw and pointedly their truth. I encourage you to allow the Anchorage Youth Advisory Commission to select their representation from their organization without adult interference. Let’s serve them,” Bishop wrote.
Allard pointed out that the Youth Advisory Commission is far more diverse than the Assembly. Forty percent of the members of the YAC are minorities.
In spite of all the testimony received, the question was called and the vote was in favor of the takeover. What remains to be seen is whether the YAC members simply resign, reform their group as their own alternative commission, or try to work with the heavy authoritarian hand coming down on them from the Anchorage Assembly.