Bronson, allies accuses Assembly of overstepping bounds that they themselves are trampling
Ignore the spin and you’ll see an administration who—at nearly every turn—has not just pushed the bounds of separation of powers but trampled them. And it looks like they’re just getting started.
Good evening, Alaska!
In this edition: We look at the strongarm tactics of a mayoral administration that’s not particularly keen on following the rules (but is more than happy to blame others of doing just that), the mask mandate gets a veto-proof supermajority, redistricting hits the road and the reading list.
Programming note: Who would’ve thought that mid-October would be a bad time to plan to go your friend’s out-of-state wedding? That’s right, just when the Alaska Legislature is set to finally hold some special session hearings, I’ll be in and out of action for the week. All that’s to say, I’m always on the look-out for guest editorials and guest columns for the blog. If you’ve got something in mind and might be interested, then feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Spend enough time in the extreme-right echo chamber and you’d think that the Anchorage Assembly is a tyrannical body intent on overpowering the poor, freedom-loving administration of Mayor Dave Bronson. They’re not just trying to impose a mask mandate, but they’re violating the separation of powers! It’s an effective narrative—the last stand in the face of the liberal bogeyman—that has turned the hate-driven mob into a hate-driven mob with a victimhood fantasy.
When Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar asked a testifier whether she understood why wearing of a yellow Star of David meant to draw a comparison between the Holocaust and the mask mandates was offensive, she responded that what was offensive was the Assembly “disrespecting the mayor I voted for.” That, like many other lines aiming vitriol and hate at the members of the assembly, drew whooping and hollering from the pro-Bronson audience, many of whom were wearing the yellow Stars of David.
But look away for even a moment into reality, and you’ll see an administration who—at nearly every turn—has not just pushed the bounds of separation of powers but trampled them, and it looks like they’re just getting started.
As if trying to speed his way through the greatest hits of the wannabe dictators like Trump and others who’ve followed, there’s the shady sole-source contracts to their buddies, there’s the shady campaign finance violations (which I’ll write about more for the blog tomorrow), there’s the use of public resources to promote a recall election, the bad-faith dealings over the homeless shelter and then the entirety of this masking debate and what it’s brought.
Because of the Bronson administration’s efforts to bend the assembly to his will—which includes but is not limited to using the assembly chambers for personal pep rally, denying the resources for the assembly to hold a weekend hearing, attempting to cut off the assembly’s live feed of the hearing, preventing the assembly from exercising any control over its chambers by preventing masking, by dismissing security and even by removing the plexiglass dividers in the chamber (a particular favorite for the pro-Bronson audience)—the Anchorage Assembly has had to put together an ordinance that lays out who’s clearly in control of the chamber. It will be heard in December.
And today puts a fine line under Bronson’s ongoing refusal to follow the law.
Despite municipal code clearly saying that the administration can only fire the city’s chief equity officer with cause and then only with the consent of the Anchorage Assembly, the Bronson administration fired the city’s first chief equity officer Clifford Armstrong III on Thursday without cause and without the consent of the Anchorage Assembly. He was swiftly replaced by Uluao “Junior” Aumavae. The Bronson administration claims that it’s all fine because another part of the law says that appointees serve at the direction of the mayor, though they never explain why the existing law specific to this position can be ignored.
The backlash has been fierce, with the Anchorage NAACP issuing a strong rebuke of the firing, calling an illegal attempt to cover up a report on the city’s record on equal opportunity in hiring.
“The Mayor needs to re-hire the Chief Equity Officer immediately, because the firing was illegal,” said Anchorage NAACP President Kevin McGee.“ The Mayor also needs to come clean with the public about the Equity Officer’s report that his administration is trying to cover up.”
Armstrong hasn’t been shy about talking about the experience, either. He was the first person to hold the position, which was created under the previous administration as a response to national and local protests against police brutality and racism. The idea was it would help build diversity and inclusion in Anchorage.
“I’m going to make sure all employment laws are respected as a public administrator who works on equity issues,” Armstrong said. “It’s unfortunate that, irrespective of how this process shakes out, this situation is going to be kind of an asterisk that will always be attached to Anchorage and Alaska’s efforts on equity.”
It should also put an asterisk next to Bronson’s oath to uphold the city’s laws… and add one more thing to cram into the inevitable 200-word recall statement.
(Coming tomorrow, the Alaska Public Offices Commission upholds a $38,500 fine against the Bronson for Mayor campaign.)
The mask mandate gets a veto-proof majority
While the strongarm tactics with the Assembly may have played well to his audience, it’s been largely repugnant and galvanizing to most others. That includes Anchorage Assemblymember Kameron Perez-Verdia. Perez-Verdia had been a question mark on the masking mandate in large part because he said he was approaching the hearing with an open mind to both sides. Over the weekend, he issued a statement that not only clearly outlined his support for the measure but also his frustration with the administration’s attempts to intimidate the Assembly.
“There is a line between passionate testimony on an important issue and abuse of the process to delay consideration of the proposed solution. This week, we crossed that line,” he wrote on Saturday. “Regrettably, members of our community have abused the public process in an attempt to prevent myself and the rest of the Assembly from translating those perspectives into much needed action. Shamefully, while opponents to the ordinance bring weapons to public meetings and harass members of the press, the mayor and his administration have further corrupted the process by removing security from the Assembly chambers in an effort to intimidate its members. That is why I am also in favor of an emergency order that would effectively end this mockery of due process and allow us to move forward with the critical business of making hard and important decisions for our city.”
Perez-Verdia’s vote likely gives the Anchorage Assembly a veto-proof supermajority to pass the mask mandate if/when we ever get to a vote. Bronson is also almost certain to veto the measure and if everything else is guidance for how he’ll behave likely to just ignore the law once the assembly overrides his veto, which ought to be one more thing to add to the recall grounds for recall.
The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to hold its regular meeting on Tuesday. It will continue its hearing on the mask mandate at 6 p.m. Wednesday with an option to continue it at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Redistricting road show tour, continued
Following its initial round of public meetings, the Anchorage Redistricting Board is hitting the road again on Tuesday for a 14-stop road trip that will bring the maps around the road system and to several coastal and rural communities. Unsurprisingly, the reaction so far has been at best tepid given the apparent advantage that the new draft proposals would hand to Republicans. Anyways, here’s the upcoming schedule:
Open House/Public Hearings:
October 12: Seward: 4:00pm – 6:00pm: Community Library: http://notice.alaska.gov/204034
October 13: Homer: 5:00pm – 7:00pm: Best Western Bidarka Inn: http://notice.alaska.gov/204035
October 14: Soldotna/Kenai: 5:30pm – 7:30pm: Kenai Peninsula Borough Building: Online Public Notice: http://notice.alaska.gov/204036
October 15: Kodiak: 12:00pm ‐2:00pm: Afognak Building: Online Public Notice: http://notice.alaska.gov/204037
October 18: Delta Junction: 12:00pm – 2:00pm: Community Center: Online Public Notice: http://notice.alaska.gov/204038
October 18: Fairbanks: 5:30pm ‐7:30pm: Carlson Center: http://notice.alaska.gov/204039
October 19: Bethel: 4:00pm – 6:00pm: Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center: http://notice.alaska.gov/204040
October 21: Dillingham: 12:00pm – 2:00pm: City Chambers: http://notice.alaska.gov/204041
October 22: Dutch Harbor: 4:00pm – 6:00pm: The Grand Aleutian: http://notice.alaska.gov/204042
October 25, Palmer: 6:00pm – 8:00pm: Assembly Chambers: http://notice.alaska.gov/204043
October 26, Wasilla: 6:00pm – 8:00pm: Menard Center: http://notice.alaska.gov/204044
October 27: Anchorage: 5:00pm – 7:00pm: The Lake Front: http://notice.alaska.gov/204045
October 28: Utqiagvik: 4:30pm ‐ 6:30pm: North Slope Borough Assembly Chambers: http://notice.alaska.gov/204046
November 1: Cordova: 4:00pm – 6:00pm: The Cordova Center: http://notice.alaska.gov/204047
There’s also a day designated for call-ins around the state as well as a meet-the-maps Zoom call on the schedule. The schedule for the call-ins has yet to be finalized, but the Zoom call is set for Friday, Oct. 15 from 6:00pm – 7:00pm (link here).
The Division of Elections today certified an initiative that would formalize Alaska’s recognition of tribes. It allows the group to begin gathering the more than 36,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the 2022 ballot. From Alaska Public Media: Why you might see tribal recognition on Alaska’s 2022 ballot
And as if the ongoing covid-19 pandemic didn’t give the public health system enough to worry about, they’re bracing for a resurgence of respiratory infections after the largely light season that was this last flu season (which has been credited on the masking and social distancing efforts that have since been largely abandoned). From Alaska Public Media: As the season of respiratory illness begins, anxiety builds about Alaska’s pediatric hospital capacity
In another bit of fiscal fantasy, the Dunleavy administration through Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney today attempted to dramatically cut the state’s retirement systems. It’s part of an ongoing claim that the strong market makes cutting payments to the state’s retirement system—and therefore making the balance budget that much easier for a large dividend payout—is just fine. In reality, the whole bid is incredibly risky policy and it sounds like the proposal was ultimately withdrawn from consideration by the Alaska Retirement Management Board. The background from Dermot Cole: Dunleavy plan to cut $65 million puts state retirement systems at long-term risk