The Anchorage Assembly voted to override two vetoes that Mayor Dave Bronson issued earlier this week, reinstating ordinances that Assembly leadership has said are meant to address separation of powers issues with the mayor and Bronson has called a “power grab.”
During a special meeting on Friday to address the mayor’s vetoes, the Assembly overrode one veto in an 9-2 vote, reinstating an ordinance that brings the mayor’s appointees to the Assembly for confirmation much more quickly.
The Assembly then voted 9-2 to override Bronson’s veto of an ordinance that changes municipal code to formally designate control over Assembly meeting spaces to the Assembly chair.
The no votes in both cases were from Assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy of Eagle River.
In news release sent immediately following the vote, Assembly leadership announced that it will enforce its COVID-19 mitigation plan during its meetings, including that masks or face coverings must be worn at all times and limiting occupancy in Assembly chambers to 125 people.
The Assembly had passed both ordinances last week amid a deepening power struggle with the mayor’s administration.
Bronson denounced both ordinances and has argued that the ordinance on control of Assembly meeting spaces is against Alaska law.
Assembly leadership has defended the ordinances as legal, necessary and within the legislative body’s power.
Under the ordinance, the Assembly chair — currently Suzanne LaFrance — now has the authority to exercise management over the spaces where the Assembly holds its meetings, such as its chambers in Loussac Library.
LaFrance had introduced the ordinance soon after a chaotic October meeting over a mask ordinance during which Bronson’s administration asserted control over Assembly chambers, pulling security guards and removing a plexiglass shield between testifiers and Assembly members that was being used for COVID-19 mitigation.
“I don’t think anyone expected or anticipated that this kind of ordinance would be needed especially after 45 years of customs and traditions,” LaFrance said. “And I just want to reiterate that this ordinance merely ensures that the Assembly has what it needs to effectively run its meetings, which is critical for doing the city’s business, the municipality’s business.”
Bronson again denounced the ordinance soon after the Assembly’s vote in a statement posted to social media, saying that it violates state law and the city’s charter.
“It’s clear that this power remains with whomever the Mayor is. This ordinance violates charter and state law. This Anchorage Assembly is doing things they were not elected or legally authorized to do,” he said.
Attorney Bill Falsey, whom the Assembly hired as outside counsel to advise on the separation of powers issues, said that the mayor is interpreting state law incorrectly.
“It doesn’t make any changes to municipal reporting structures or to existing chains of command,” Falsey said. Falsey worked as municipal attorney and municipal manager under the administration of former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and briefly as municipal manager under former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson.
The mayor is also now required to submit appointees for Assembly confirmation within 60 days of their hire. Mayors could previously wait up to six months. After 60 days, the Assembly now has the power to schedule a confirmation vote at any time, even if the mayor does not submit the person for confirmation.
That ordinance comes after a series of scuffles over Bronson’s executive appointments. While the Assembly has confirmed most of Bronson’s appointees, it has rejected two over concerns with their qualifications.
The mayor in his veto called the code change an attempt to “consolidate power in the Assembly even though there has been no attempt to subvert the Assembly’s power of confirmation.”
Speaking about the ordinance, Assembly members have raised the issue of Bronson’s appointed library director Judy Eledge, who resigned earlier this month. The mayor’s office said she did not want to go through the Assembly confirmation process, which the administration called unfair. Eledge does not hold a degree in library sciences and was unlikely to be confirmed.
Still, Eledge is now serving as the the Anchorage Public Library’s deputy director, and is working as its acting library director. The mayor’s office has said it is looking for a replacement.
The Assembly had previously rejected Bronson’s library director appointee, Sami Graham, who also does not have a degree in library sciences.
Falsey said that over the last ten years the confirmation process has been increasingly formalized, and that in 2019 the Assembly passed a code change requiring mayors to submit a memorandum to the Assembly when appointing executives.
The new ordinance further formalizes the process, does not change the ability of the mayor to appoint whomever the mayor chooses, and addresses two gaps in city code, he said.
“That is, what happens if a person is actually appointed by the mayor, but never forwarded to the Assembly for confirmation? And second, what should happen if a person is hired into a job that does not require Assembly confirmation, but then indefinitely given the powers of the person or the person who should receive Assembly confirmation?” Falsey said.