Anchorage Assembly proposal for new special assistant position draws objection from mayor

Members of the Anchorage Assembly say their workload has gone up in recent years, and on Tuesday they will consider creating a special assistant position to help.

But the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson says that the ordinance, as written, would give the special assistant too much reach into his administration, such as unrestricted access into all records and activities of the municipal government and its departments.

“Based on what’s been proposed, we don’t believe this is permissible,” said Matt Shuckerow, interim spokesman for the mayor’s office. “It would violate the granted executive powers of the administration.”

The mayor’s office believes the ordinance would create “a position that would be void of any checks and balances with virtually no limitations on what they could do,” Shuckerow said.

Assembly members say that is not the intention of the ordinance, and that they had worked to create the position long before Bronson was elected. Members say the proposed special assistant would not interfere with the mayor’s office.

The Assembly is slated to vote on the ordinance outlining the special assistant position this Tuesday. Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said they will likely revise the language of the ordinance, which he called “somewhat problematic,” before passing it.

“We’re definitely looking closely at it,” Constant said.

The assistant would be hired by the Assembly chair with approval from members. The person would provide policy research and advice; help to draft resolutions, memoranda and other documents; help with communications and public engagement and assist the municipal clerk, according to the ordinance.

Assembly member Felix Rivera said that the new position is part of a yearlong effort to grow and strengthen the city’s legislative branch, an effort that Rivera started while working as Assembly chair, he said. The Assembly in April budgeted money for the position, he said.

It’s “so we can truly say we are a co-equal branch of government, so that we can do our job, which has increased tenfold the stress and demands of our jobs compared to just a few years ago,” Rivera said.

Rivera said previous Assemblies have had full-time staff who helped with the city budget. Currently, the Assembly has no full-time staff other than its attorney, who is swamped with work, he said. The Assembly will also soon hire an assistant attorney to ease the workload, he said.

Specific wording in the ordinance would allow the new special assistant “full, free and unrestricted” access to information within the city government -- all public records, activities of the municipal government and its departments, all municipal property, all municipal personnel and “all policies, plans and procedures, and records pertaining to financial expenditures by municipal funds.”

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That wording is copied and pasted from other parts of city code outlining other positions in city government, including the city clerk and ombudsman, said Constant. Those positions are also appointed by the Assembly.

Constant said the wording of the ordinance does not mean the Assembly would send its assistant to the mayor’s internal discussions and meetings.

“That doesn’t make any sense, and it’s never been done in practice, even though the language is already in the code. It’s never been used in that manner,” Constant said. “The use of that section of the code is so that the administration can’t just tactically blockade the clerk’s office from providing to the Assembly critical information and processes.”

Shuckerow said that the section of the ordinance appears to “allow carte blanche authority by the staff person to access all municipal property, personnel, activities and processes at any time without any notice.”

That would potentially interfere with the separation of power between the Assembly and administration, and could disrupt normal administration work processes, interfering with the mayor’s ability to perform his role as outlined by the charter and code, he said.

Assembly member John Weddleton said that the ordinance is only meant to create a position to ease the workload of Assembly members, the city clerk and attorney. An assistant to the Assembly should have the same access to data and information that Assembly members have, he said.

“Somehow this super simple thing got twisted,” he said.