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Anchorage Assembly reopens meetings to the public, with restrictions

  • Author: Aubrey Wieber
  • Updated: August 31, 2020
  • Published August 31, 2020

Protestors walk around the Loussac Library looking for an entrance into the building where the Anchorage Assembly gathered for a meeting on Aug. 11, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

The Anchorage Assembly will once again be open to the public for in-person participation.

Starting Monday evening, 60 members of the public can enter the chambers in Z.J. Loussac Library to watch the meetings and give in-person testimony, according to Assembly Chair Felix Rivera. Normally, the chamber can accommodate about 250 people.

The reopening comes after Emergency Order 15, which limited indoor gatherings, expired Sunday night.

Anyone attending must wear a mask throughout the meeting and physically distance from other members of the public, Rivera said. They must also comply with a forehead temperature check and fill out a contact-tracing log to be used in the event of an outbreak.

The August closure of the chambers was a rallying cry for a growing group of Anchorage residents protesting local government orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, from mask mandates to business closures, as well as the use of federal coronavirus relief money to purchase buildings for homeless and treatment services.

While Assembly meetings in general are not well-attended, some lately have been. Controversial items being taken up by the Assembly have drawn large groups to testify this summer.

Groups of more than 100 people have regularly gathered outside the library prior to and during Assembly meetings, voicing their opposition to government mandates, as well as the closure of the meeting to in-person participation.

People have been able to give testimony on Assembly items via email or over the phone, but many protesters argued the Assembly was trying to shut the public out. During the closure, the Assembly voted on several controversial items, including how federal CARES Act money is being spent and passing a ban on a discredited form of therapy for minors that seeks to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

On Monday, the Assembly will hold a special meeting for marijuana license renewals.

If more than 60 people want to give testimony on an item, Rivera said, they will likely use Wilda Marston Theatre, also located in the library, for overflow. Testifiers will be asked to leave the chambers after speaking to allow space for other members of the public to come in and participate.

In a news release, Rivera encouraged people to submit written testimony or give testimony via phone. To sign up to testify via phone, email by 2 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Written testimony can be submitted to the same email address. Further instructions are available at the Assembly’s website.

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