By LUCAS SMITH
As many witnessed Thursday evening, Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, with the aid of the majority leftist Assembly, voted to prohibit public testimony follow-up questions from Assembly members because, in the view of certain Assembly members, that questioning was viewed as dilatory and inconsistent with the Assembly’s own standards and norms.
Chair LaFrance asserted that the standards and norms she is basing her ruling on are detailed in various places within the Municipal Charter, Municipal Code, and Robert’s Rules of Order.
The Anchorage Assembly, in addition to other governing bodies in Alaska (like, for example, the Anchorage School Board), have been extending the rules of decorum spelled out in Robert’s Rules of Order and strictly applying them to members of the public during public testimony.
This has led to countless instances where public testimony has been cut off either because testimony was too enthusiastic, personal in nature, or simply too embarrassing for the public office holders to hear and face. In these instances, members of the public have been dismissed for creating a “disturbance” and thanked in a callously robotic manner for their participation.
Following the chair’s ruling and Assembly’s endorsement of prohibiting follow up questions, one member of the public offered testimony on the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) case in which the court ruled, “the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press may protect libelous words about a public official in order to foster vigorous debate about government and public affairs.”
In many ways, Chair LaFrance’s ruling epitomizes how supremely ignorant lawmakers seeking to justify their importance have – year after year, federal law after federal law, state law after state law, local law after local law, Assembly precedent after Assembly precedent – managed to chip away at our constitutional liberty to such a degree that things like the perceived normalcy of seatbelt law is used to justify forcing children to wear masks.
Today, my child rode the school bus for the first time. As all know, there are no seatbelts on school buses, which suggests to me, the time to wipe the legislative slate clean is well past due.
If I may remind Assembly members of the precedent this Assembly set – for itself – pertaining to dilatory questioning as follow up to public testimony: The public may recall during testimony on the former administration’s (Ethan Berkowitz) plan to address homelessness in Anchorage, Assemblyman Chris Constant questioned Rabbi Greenberg in a rather accusatory manner, asking if he was suggesting homeless individuals loitering around his synagogue should be rounded up and contained in a fenced in area.
“So the way might be, send them all to one place and put a fence around them,” Assemblyman Constant said. The incident occurred in July of 2020. This is an example of dilatory questioning, if there ever was one.
Recordings of the public’s immediate and audible shocked reaction to Constant’s question that evening speaks for itself. I believe no member of the Assembly spoke up for the Rabbi except for Assemblywoman Jamie Allard.
Curiously, the Assembly did not prohibit follow up questioning to public testimony after this incident.
That incident set the bar and is an example of this Assembly’s historical norms and standards for dilatory questioning as follow up to public testimony.
It is also worth noting that, while the chair has gaveled down and arrested boisterous members of the public speaking out in opposition to AO 2021-91 (compulsory mask ordinance), the same Assembly continued a meeting in June of 2020 as members of the public rather bizarrely did push-ups and rolled around on the Assembly chamber floor in the space between seated assembly members and the testimony podium.
I hope the Assembly is now more aware of the standards and norms it has set, through its own precedent, for public testimony. If this Assembly can not police itself to its own standards, perhaps the same set of standards, as this Assembly has now applied them, will continue with the next Assembly.
Lucas Smith is an Anchorage resident and citizen activist.