The headline in the Anchorage Daily News summed it up perfectly "Hectic Assembly meeting ends with little clarity on labor law".
Nathaniel Herz wrote the definitive piece on what a mess the mayor and Assembly made of the Assembly Chambers during on that evening in late October.
They met to discuss the mayor's controversial labor law (AO37). This law and the drama surrounding it have taken on a life of their own.
The meeting went back and forth exactly as most people expected. The Assembly repealed AO37 with Assemblymen Bill Starr and Adam Trombley switching sides to vote for the repeal. Mayor Dan Sullivan then immediately vetoed the repeal.
The Assembly then voted to place the referendum to repeal AO37 on the April ballot rather than the November state primary ballot. The Mayor immediately vetoed that as well.
The Anchorage Charter states, "The mayor has the veto power." It goes on to say "The veto must be exercised and submitted to the assembly with a written explanation within seven days of passage of the ordinance affected. The assembly, by two-thirds majority vote of the total membership, may override a veto any time within 21 days after its exercise."
The mayor clearly has the power to veto the repeal of the labor law, and with it winning 7-4 and the Assembly needing 8 votes to overturn it, that veto would stand.
In regard to the latter measure however, some question if the mayor has the right to veto.
Herz reports in his article that Sullivan and Assembly chair Ernie Hall had met earlier and Hall explained that he would not accept the veto until the Superior Court ruled on the issue.
That's when the attorneys got into it.
Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler and Assembly Attorney Julia Tucker disagree on the issue. Wheeler claims that Mayor Sullivan has the authority to veto the date, which the referendum will be on the ballot while Tucker asserts that he does not.
The argument over the Charter and the strong mayor system in Anchorage is going to be interesting in court, and the decision will be a very important one for mayoral administrations and for the Assembly in the future.
The problem for those in favor of AO37 in this instance is that the mayoral veto power is very broad. It simply states that the mayor has the right to veto power. It fails to create any sort of boundaries for the Mayor. It simply gives him the right to veto.
Another problem surrounding this issue that we learned was that the Charter is also unclear on when the Assembly must put a referendum on the ballot. Different experts have opinions but this is an issue the court may have to rule on at some point as well.
All of this takes the power away from the people in terms of referendum issues and puts it squarely in the hands of the mayor and Assembly. This cannot possibly be the intent of those who drafted the Anchorage Charter here in Alaska, a state that prides itself on independence and providing a smaller government impact.
It is fairly ironic that the mayor and conservative members of the Assembly, who generally claim to be in favor of smaller government, are working hard to take the voice away from the people on this matter and make government more powerful when it comes to the initiative and referendum processes - which is a power reserved for the people.
The bottom line is that when government takes away power from the people, it becomes bigger government, and bigger government is rarely a good thing for us. We need conservatives who truly believe that smaller government is better and that the people know what is better for them.
We need some clarification on the mayor's veto power and its limitations - probably by a charter amendment.
More importantly, we need leadership in Anchorage that . . . well, we need leadership in Anchorage.
Mayor Sullivan and the Anchorage Assembly made the mess in Assembly Chambers on that October evening; it's time for them to clean it up.
Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, email@example.com.