By LOUIS IMBRIANI
In case you missed Tuesday night’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. It was business as usual, except with an added 200 people or so waiting in anticipation to give their testimony on two items that were added during a special Assembly meeting on Sept. 20. These items were AO 2021-91, which would bully Anchorage businesses into trying to enforce and require their patrons to wear a face covering in their businesses; and AO 2021-92 which is a retaliatory response regarding Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointments.
The public continued to file in and out of the Assembly chambers while they were conducting the beginning of meeting formalities, but an unforeseen technical glitch caused quite a stir.
The sound was temporarily lost in the Wilda Marsden Theater, which is the overflow room, and the video was completely out. This caused the large overflow crowd to come from the Wilda Marsden and demand entry into the Assembly chambers. With the chambers already well over capacity, security guards had to hold the line at the doors.
There was screaming and chanting while people waited to get into the Assembly chambers so they could watch what was happening. This caused numerous interruptions to the meeting facilitated by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance. LaFrance even went as far as putting the public in “timeout” and pausing the meeting for five minutes on three separate occasions.
There were the comments from the crowd of onlookers during initial audience participation, which was, for the second meeting in a row, dominated by an administrative staff manager from Providence Alaska Medical Center and a doctor from Providence, edging out the time slot for other member of the public to give their testimony.
This was just a repeat of the last Assembly meeting where they continued to circle around the questions rather than answer them, or they would refer the Assembly to others who would know the answer.
The meeting was managed as business as usual. The members took up all the items of regular business on the agenda as planned. It wasn’t until almost 10:30 pm that Assemblywoman Jamie Allard made a motion to reorder the day. However, she was quickly shut down by Acting Chairman Chris Constant, who took over for Chair LaFrance for the item they had in front of them, due to a conflict that was, in fact, a minor technicality. They finished the item and a motion was made to reorder the day, but it still put the most anticipated item (AO2021-91, the universal masking ordinance) third in line. A motion was also made to extend the meeting from 11 pm to midnight.
A zoning change then took up almost the entirety of the remainder of the evening with the public hearing of the masking ordinance starting at 11:45 pm. This hearing was continued Wednesday starting at 6 pm in the assembly chambers. That meeting also went until midnight, and is continued to Thursday at 6 pm. They will hear everyone in the chambers and on the phone. So please show up early so you can speak.
The actions taken by the Assembly on Tuesday just proved that this ordinance, which originally was littered with the word “emergency,” is actually just another attempt at restricting the rights of over 300,000 Anchorage residents. They called a Special Assembly meeting eight days prior to get it on the agenda for Tuesday, and then rather than taking it up right a way because it is was so important it just couldn’t wait, they continued on like “business as usual.” This illustrates why the power to act in an emergency rests with the executive branch, not the legislative branch.
The reactions from the crowd Tuesday and Wednesday, while disruptive, were well justified. The way the Anchorage Assembly conducts business is abhorrent. They continue on with business as usual because “that is the way we have always done it.” The Anchorage Assembly’s poor time management, disregard for the public and blatant disrespect for people’s time has led to the situation we saw develop in the chambers.
Many of the members and the body as a whole have lost the respect of the people of Anchorage over the past 19 months. That was further proven Monday and Tuesday by the display of the crowd.
The only reasonable action that can be taken by the assembly now is to postpone AO 2021-91 indefinitely. They have proven that this AO is really not all emergency. Their willingness to filibuster the night away reinforced this point.
Louis Imbriani is an Anchorage resident and civic activist.