An Anchorage Assembly member has introduced a resolution that would publicly acknowledge another member’s recent behavior as “actions and conduct that breach the public trust.” The member, Jamie Allard, recently came under fire for comments she made on social media about a pair of Nazi-themed vanity license plates.
At the Assembly meeting on Tuesday, members will consider the resolution, sponsored by member Meg Zaletel.
Allard became embroiled in a controversy in late January as photos of state-issued Alaska license plates reading “FUHRER” and “3REICH”circulated on social media. Allard, who represents Eagle River and Chugiak, made comments on Facebook about the plates. Gov. Mike Dunleavy subsequently removed her from her position on the state’s Human Rights Commission.
The resolution accuses Allard of using her social media platform in her capacity as an Assembly member “to defend language that is unequivocally associated with Nazis, making egregious and patently offensive statements that seriously erode the trust and respect of Municipal residents and are improper for a public official.”
The resolution also lists other reasons for taking action, including Allard’s removal of her public Facebook page and accusing her of blocking or removing comments from constituents and residents. According to a conservative website, Must Read Alaska, Allard said that Facebook removed her Assembly page following the license plate controversy. A spokesperson for Facebook then told another site, The Alaska Landmine, that Allard’s page was removed by the user, according to the site.
Allard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about the proposed resolution. In a statement during a recent Assembly meeting, she condemned racism, said that her Facebook comments had been misinterpreted as defending the license plates and apologized if it “came across offensive.”
Zaletel said during an interview Friday that the city’s Board of Ethics oversees investigations into the conduct of elected officials, but it is a confidential process.
“I don’t think that that’s a satisfactory response to the public, when a member has so offended the public in their official capacity by doing something as egregious as defending Nazis and lying,” Zaletel said.
Many residents have called for the Assembly to take public action and it is important for the Assembly to publicly denounce the conduct, she said.
At least one Assembly member said he has concerns over the implications of the resolution. Member Chris Constant said that he denounces Nazism, language that sympathizes with Nazism and Allard’s comments about the license plates.
But the Assembly is technically a nonpartisan body, and a tug-of-war between the “left and right” has burdened the Assembly and its legislative process, he said.
The resolution could set a dangerous precedent that could affect other Assembly members in the future “based on political whims; based on partisanship,” he said.
“All of this is symptomatic of our failure as a body to figure out how to deal with each other, and this just formalizes the failure,” Constant said.
After months of growing discord, Tuesday’s meeting will likely bring more as the Assembly grapples with political divisions among its members and the community.
Allard has often acted as a conservative voice on a largely progressive Assembly, voting against extending the declaration of emergency and the mayor’s special powers. She has found a base of support among a vocal group of citizens who often dominate public testimony at Assembly meetings.
Many of those supporters are outspoken critics of the city’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its emergency orders requiring masks and limiting capacity in businesses and restaurants. They have also criticized the city for its controversial use of CARES Act funds to purchase buildings for homeless and drug treatment services.
The group has, in part, coalesced on a private Facebook group called Save Anchorage, which grew to more than 8,000 members as people protested the city’s plan for building purchases. The group is also largely backing current mayoral candidate Dave Bronson.
Assembly meetings have become increasingly tense over the last few months, especially during public testimony. Some meeting attendees have been kicked out of the Assembly chambers during unruly moments at meetings.
Tensions further grew after the resignation of former Mayor Ethan Berkowtiz last fall and the Assembly’s decision to choose an acting mayor rather than hold a special election. Berkowtiz resigned during a public scandal over what he called a “consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship” with an Anchorage TV news anchor.
After the license plate controversy last month, at the Assembly meeting on Jan. 26, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson spoke at the beginning of the meeting and denounced Nazism — though she did not mention Allard specifically — and the crowd in the chambers erupted in cries of disapproval. Some of Allard’s supporters at the meeting wore small, round signs bearing her name pinned to their clothing.
Several Assembly members have faced opposition and, in some cases, open hostility in recent months.
Assembly member John Weddleton last month received death threats from an Anchorage man who has been charged in the matter.
Assembly Chair Felix Rivera has become a focus of ire from the group of citizens supporting Allard and is facing a recall vote during the upcoming election, which was approved for the ballot in January.
Member Constant has also drawn vocal criticism from the group and in December protestors went directly to his home, driving vehicles past his house honking, yelling and holding signs. They also protested that day at the acting mayor’s home.