Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly calls on Mayor Bronson to enforce mask mandate

Anchorage Assembly leaders this week sent a letter to Mayor Dave Bronson asking him to enforce the emergency mask ordinance now in effect in the city. In an interview, Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said that if Bronson fails to do so, it would be grounds for a recall.

The letter says it is the mayor’s responsibility to enforce the ordinance, which broadly requires people in Anchorage to wear a mask when they are indoors in places that are open to the public.

“Yet, many members of the public are asking Assembly Members questions about compliance and enforcement of the mask mandate,” says the letter, signed by Constant and Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and addressed to the mayor and Municipal Manager Amy Demboski.

Bronson and his administration aggressively opposed the Assembly’s effort to impose a mask requirement, despite high COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations in Anchorage. The mayor called an earlier version of the mask ordinance an “an affront to our liberty” and vetoed the emergency ordinance when it passed. However, when the Assembly overrode Bronson’s veto after weeks of vitriolic meetings, he said, “It’s the law. We’re going to follow the law.”

In the letter, sent Oct. 20, Assembly leaders asked the mayor which city department is responsible for enforcing the mask emergency order, and which department the public should contact if they have questions about the order.

A spokesman for the mayor said the municipal manager’s office is in charge of handling complaints about mask mandate violations.

“The administration is working closely with the IT department to design and implement a new web form on the Municipal Manager’s page so the public can report violations,” Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said in an email. “This form should be up and running by the end of the week.”

The letter from Assembly leaders notes that in November 2020, under former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, the city hired three code enforcement officers “specifically to have capacity to do this work of enforcing the prior mask mandate, gathering limitations, and other emergency orders.”

Those positions were funded through the federal CARES Act and continued through 2021, the letter says.

In an interview, Constant said “failure to enforce would, in fact, be grounds for recall.”

There are multiple exceptions to Anchorage’s emergency mask ordinance. That includes “individuals who cannot tolerate a face covering due to physical or mental disability,” the ordinance states, adding, “The individual’s or a guardian’s statement that they are exempted is sufficient evidence.”

Several Anchorage businesses, as well as Anchorage’s municipal manager, have highlighted that exception to employees and customers.

In an email to municipal employees after the emergency ordinance was passed, Demboski said, “It is hereby interpreted that individuals not wearing a mask, who make an affirmative statement that they cannot tolerate a mask, or qualify for another exemption ... are exempt from wearing a mask. Employees claiming this exemption will be taken at their word as provided by the emergency ordinance.”

Asked how the Bronson administration should enforce the emergency ordinance with its multiple exceptions, Constant said, “I think that’s a good question for the administration. It’s up to them to figure out their approach.”

Daily News reporter Emily Goodykoontz contributed.

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