Proposals to put broad changes to Assembly, School Board before voters rejected

rshinohara@adn.comDecember 18, 2012 

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday failed to approve proposals by Chris Birch to put propositions on the April 2 city election ballot that would change the make-up of the Assembly and School Board.

But the members voted 8-3 in favor of a city ballot proposition proposed by Patrick Flynn for a smaller change, that would let voters decide whether to write into the city charter that Assembly terms be three years, period. Now under one circumstance, the charter says Assembly members would have two-year terms.

Birch wanted to place on the ballot a charter amendment that would require there to be 11 single-member Assembly districts, and also require three-year-terms.

Birch also proposed a charter amendment that would expand the School Board from 7 to 11 members. Under the School Board amendment, the board members would be elected from districts instead of all of them being elected by voters citywide, as now.

The charter is like a constitution for the city. As it is currently written, the charter says there will be seven School Board members elected citywide.

The charter leaves it up to the Assembly to decide how to carve the city into Assembly districts. The Assembly can vote to change the number of districts, but the body must end up with 11 members.

Now the town is divided into six Assembly districts. Five of them have two members and one, the downtown district, is half the size and has one representative.

The charter also says if there are 11 single member districts, Assembly members would have to stand for election every two years. If there are any two or three-member districts, the charter says all Assembly terms will be three years.

It's not clear why there's this quirk in the charter, but Flynn's proposal would let voters decide whether to get rid of it.

Birch's Assembly district proposal didn't make it to a vote Tuesday night -- the Assembly decided to take up Flynn's version, that would only mandate three-year-terms, instead.

Birch's School Board proposal was voted down with four in favor and seven against. Birch, Jennifer Johnston, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley voted for it.

School Board member Natasha Von Imhof, testifying against the School Board amendment, said, "We want to know what's good for all kids, not just one district."

Birch said his proposals arose out of concerns he heard during the Assembly's reapportionment process this year. The Assembly changed district boundaries to take into account population changes reported in the 2010 census. But it left the districts essentially the same.

Birch was chairman of an Assembly subcommittee that came up with the plans for redistricting.

He said due to population growth, Assembly members in two-member districts are representing 53,000 residents --too many, he thinks.

Also, the original idea was that the one one-member district -- now downtown -- would rotate to a different part of town every 10 years, Birch said, but that hasn't been happening. Proposals to move the single member district to either Midtown or East Anchorage didn't get anywhere this year.

Separately from the Assembly action, a retired school teacher, David Nees, is circulating petitions that could put propositions on Assembly and School Board make-up on the April election ballot.

One calls for 11 single member Assembly districts and two-year terms. Another calls for nine School Board seats, representing nine districts.

Nees said he needs 7,268 signatures per ballot measure to get any of his propositions on the ballot. Neither of them are completed yet.

"I just think it's time to have a good discussion. Is it time to try something new? That's the whole impetus," Nees said.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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