The Anchorage Assembly liberal majority is trying to reassert control over the Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library, as well as in City Hall, when the Assembly uses conference rooms for its meetings.
The majority, led by Chair Suzanne LaFrance, wants to enact a mask mandate for its meetings, but the mayor controls the law enforcement functions for the municipality, and he said he will not force people to mask on municipal property. Mayor Dave Bronson says everyone should have a right to mask or not mask in Anchorage, and he won’t allow security or the police to enforce the masking rules of the Assembly.
Bronson issued the following statement:
“While my critics spend more time about how I won’t institute big government mandates, they ignore the fact that my administration has increased COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and stood up two monoclonal antibody treatment sites. My administration has been clear since the beginning that we will not mandate masks or vaccines. If someone wants to wear a mask or get a vaccination that’s their personal choice. But we will not violate the privacy and independent healthcare decisions of our citizens in the process. The personal choice to wear a mask or vaccinate is up to the individual person. We are committed to giving access to Anchorage residents with all the resources and information they need to make informed personal decisions for themselves and their families.”
At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, the liberal Assembly members had their solution to defeat Bronson: They drew up a new ordinance that gives them control over the physical space of their meetings.
Whether that would withstand court scrutiny may be tested. The administration has, by code, authority over municipal operations, which includes buildings and operations. The new ordinance would trump the authority of the executive branch.
It also would give the Assembly control over Election Central’s building and lock the Administration out. If the ordinance passes, the Administration cannot ensure the adequate security of elections and the election facility.
The ordinance was at the request of Vice Chair Chris Constant. It says that its long-standing practice and custom that the Assembly Chair has authority over the settings of meetings, and that the “new Mayor has asserted that authority in the Assembly Chair does not actually exist, as reported by the Assembly Chair at the September 14, 2021 meeting.”
Constant’s ordinance says that because it is a long-standing practice and custom, any chair or presiding officer of a meeting in the city has the power to make all operational decisions regarding that meeting. That would include everything from parks to planning commission meetings, whose chairs would have authority over the building space.
“There is a lack of express authority in the Anchorage Municipal Code regarding the extent of the presiding officer’s or Assembly Chair’s , powers to make decisions for a meeting logistics, settings, and operations that intuitively should be included in a presiding officer’s powers and duties,” the ordinance reads.
This ordinance will be subject to public testimony at the Sept. 28 Assembly meeting.
Read the draft ordinance here:
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance also tried to remove Mayor Dave Bronson from his appointed seat on the dais, but Bronson stood his ground and kept his seat.
Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said she would not allow the Assembly to separate her, the municipal attorney, and the mayor, and that the mayor, as the city executive, needs to be close to the secondary egress.
The new ordinance would allow the chair to separate the mayor from his staff during meetings.
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said it was needed to separate the members of the executive branch on the dais, but City Manager Amy Demboski countered that if they needed to physically distance in the room, then members of the Assembly could take the lower seats.
LaFrance has made it clear that her majority intends to enact a mask mandate and also limit the public’s ability to attend the meeting.
Demboski says the mayor believes the public has a right to attend meetings up to the fire code limit, which is 256.
The Assembly leadership had instructed last the that security limit capacity of the room to 160 people. Demboski told security to stand down, and allow people to fill the chambers up to the fire code limit.
The meeting made it clear the Assembly will is continue to attempt to limit public access to public meetings, separate the mayor from his staff in meetings so they cannot confer with each other, and give boards and commissions members authority that supersedes the mayor’s established authority in charter to direct municipal operations. The ordinance is also an attempt by the Assembly will make sure there is no administrative oversight from the executive branch to of the security of the election facility.