First time for everything, and for city government in Anchorage it starts Saturday morning.
Mayor Mark Begich plans to resign at 11 a.m. that day, in time to fly to Washington, D.C., and be sworn in Tuesday as Alaska's new U.S. senator. That will mark the first time that the municipality's mayor has ever resigned before his term was up. City officials were still trying to figure out who, specifically, Begich should resign to -- maybe the city clerk.
Assembly Chairman Matt Claman will be sworn in as acting mayor, a position he will hold until a new mayor elected in April gets sworn in July 1. Incoming mayors usually have two to three months to get up to speed before taking office. Claman has had a few weeks, and Tuesday he was in City Hall, still cramming for his new responsibilities.
The Assembly's vice chair, Harriet Drummond, will take over as the legislative group's acting chair. An acting vice chair probably will be chosen, to handle the gavel when Drummond is unable to.
Everyone is "acting" because Claman's position on the Assembly won't be filled; he'll be a kind of ghost member -- unable to vote but impossible to replace. The city charter says he'll resume his Assembly seat in July.
That's assuming, of course, that Claman doesn't decide to run for mayor, and win. He says he hasn't made up his mind if he wants to try. He has until mid-February to decide.
One other complication. Without Claman's vote, the Assembly will shrink to 10 members vulnerable to 5 to 5 gridlocks on controversial issues. The city's 2009 operating budget and three of four labor contracts approved in the last six weeks passed with bare, six-vote majorities.
"Anytime you have an even-numbered body, it's potentially problematic," said Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander.
Most routine Assembly votes are unanimous or pass with strong majorities. Others, Drummond acknowledged, "are going to need some work if we do need six votes to pass."
Among the issues coming up this spring are decisions about bond propositions for the April ballot -- what for and how big, and how much of a tax increase voters will be asked to take on. Regular, first-quarter budget changes are on the way. So is the Anchorage School District budget, which the Assembly also must approve.
And all that happens at a time when the nation's economy is in a shambles and oil prices, the lifeblood of the state's budget, are half the amount the state estimated would be necessary to balance next year's budget.
"There's going to be a lot of financial questions, and that's where the division is," said Assemblyman Dan Coffey, noting the recent 6-5 votes on the city budget and union contracts.
Already, three members -- Drummond and Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg from the old, six-vote majority, and Ossiander, who often sides with Coffey and three other members to form the five-vote dissenting group -- have sponsored resolutions that would impose a three-month city hiring freeze and require monthly financial and investment reports.
Coffey said the divide between the wings is clear, however.
"Their view as expressed in these union contracts is that you pay more and you pay very, very generously," he said. "Our view was, OK, we can afford to pay a little more ... but we wanted a far more conservative approach."
But Selkregg said there's also a strong middle ground among Assembly members, and she predicted they will be able to work together effectively. To get anything accomplished, they'll have to.
"There's a lot of listening that goes on, back and forth, between the two perspectives, actually, the 10 perspectives," she said.
"We've got critical things before us, and I think they're serious enough that they'll garner bipartisan support," she said.