Mike Dingman: Birch typifies too many city leaders who ignore rules, disregard public

Mike Dingman

Lately it seems that city officials believe they are exempt from the rules set forth in the Municipal Charter.

The most recent example of this is Chris Birch's proposal to move Anchorage elections from April to Nov-ember, beginning with next year's election.

It may occur to you that Chris Birch and other supporters of the now infamous Assembly Ordinance 37 have plenty of reason to want next year's municipal election to be moved back as far as possible.

Anchorage's "leaders" showed their lack of care for rules or what the people want multiple times in this fight over AO 37.

Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall decided to cut off testimony on the controversial labor ordinance while there were still people waiting to testify. Article II Section 9 of the Anchorage Municipal Charter states that Anchorage residents have "the right to be heard at public hearings before adoption of ...However, that didn't stop Ernie Hall from doing what he wanted to do.

Then, when the referendum came forward to repeal AO 37, the city decided to deny it, even though referendum supporters collected over 20,000 signatures when they only needed a little over 7,000. The city claimed that it was an administrative action, not a legislative one, so it was not subject to referendum.

A Superior Court judge quickly decided differently.

When it came time to decide when to put the ordinance on the ballot, Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston decided to take advantage of the fact that the Municipal Charter simply states that a vote must take place "at a later regular or special election" and proposed to place it on the ballot as far away as 2015 - even though with as many signatures as the referendum collected, Anchorage residents clearly want to weigh in on the issue.

Two Assembly members, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr, who had been the mayor's allies on this issue, decided to change course and support the repeal of AO 37 and the Assembly repealed the ordinance with a vote of 7-4.

The mayor vetoed it.

When the Assembly finally decided to place it on the April ballot, Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed that as well. He has used that veto power quite a bit lately, particularly in ensuring that AO 37 remains law as long as possible. He also has vetoed in whatever circumstances he thinks he can, even when there is legal disagreement over his veto power in certain cases.

Now Assemblyman Birch just wants that entire April election not to happen.

However, as Nathaniel Herz reports in the Anchorage Daily News, the city's ethics board ruled on Monday that the Assembly couldn't change the date of the next municipal election.

They ruled that because some Assembly members stand to earn an extra $20,000 in salary, that a conflict of interest existed.

Birch has decided to introduce the proposed change at the next Assembly meeting anyway.

He also didn't miss his chance to make a condescending remark about the ethics board. He's quoted in Herz's article saying, "I'm not quibbling with the ethics board whatsoever. They do good work. They're volunteers. They put their heart and soul into it."

Now, the argument about whether or not we should move the municipal election is a legitimate discussion and one that we probably should have as a community. Some say that it would bring a higher turnout by moving it to a more traditional election date.

Others argue that it would put too much strain on already limited resources and take the focus away from the municipal election since all of the focus would be on state and national elections.

If Birch were sincere in simply wanting to have this debate - if it wasn't just so convenient that he's suddenly decided now that he wants to move the elections later in the year, then it would probably be a worthwhile discussion to have.

It's clear however, what Birch's ulterior motive is in this instance and the voting public of Anchorage should not be fooled.

He doesn't seem to care what we think; however, very few of them do, as we have seen in recent months. They are going to do, whatever they want to do - regardless of how many times they are told that they cannot.

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.

Mike Dingman