An email from an Anchorage city employee sent to the fire department chief at a raucous October Assembly meeting describes an attempt by Municipal Manager Amy Demboski to shut down the livestreamed video feed of the meeting — and describes the fire chief intervening and instructing the employee to leave the feed running.
The Oct. 7 email, first published by the Alaska Landmine on Friday, was sent from fire department employee John Crabb to Fire Chief Doug Schrage and Assistant Chief Alex Boyd during one of the Assembly meetings held over a proposed mask ordinance.
Crabb is in charge of the audio and video equipment for Assembly meetings. In the email, Crabb recounts his refusal of Demboski’s request to shut down the livestream of that night’s meeting.
In the email, Crabb said Demboski called him to the Assembly chambers and directed him to end the livestream.
“I was called to the Chambers by Ms (Demboski) where she directed me to cut the video feed to GCI and YouTube while continuing to record the meeting in the background,” Crabb said.
According to Crabb’s account, he told Demboski that he did not work for her and takes orders from Boyd. Crabb then had a phone conversation with Boyd, who relayed a directive from Schrage to leave the video feed running.
“I refused her request and when asked why, I replied that I did not work for her, rather I take my orders from my Chief, Alex Boyd. Subsequently, we had a phone conversation about the request when you received directive from Fire Chief Schrage to leave the video feed up. Which is what is happening now,” Crabb said.
Demboski and Boyd did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
At the time of the meeting, the city was embroiled in a bitter debate over the proposed mask ordinance, and the Assembly held a series of meetings to hear public testimony that stretched over two weeks. Supporters of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson showed up en masse every night to oppose the mask requirement. There were arrests, and some testifiers shouted obscenities and insults and made threatening gestures toward Assembly members.
At the Oct. 7 meeting, the Bronson administration also ordered security guards to leave the chambers and removed a plexiglass shield from the public testimony dais that was part of the Assembly’s COVID-19 mitigation measures.
The Daily News observed Demboski entering the audio-visual equipment room that night. After Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said during the meeting that she had attempted to cut the livestream, the Daily News asked the mayor’s spokesman about the incident.
“I’m not aware of anyone in the administration attempting to make the fire department stop the livestream,” Corey Allen Young, the mayor’s spokesman, responded by email at the time.
The next week, in response to another question asking why the municipal manager attempted to shut down the livestream, Young replied that “the livestream was not shut down at any time.”
Soon after the Oct. 7 meeting, the Assembly hired the law firm Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot to advise on growing separation of powers issues between the mayor and the Assembly. Assembly leaders said the mayor and his administration had overstepped the bounds of the city’s separation of powers in their assertion of control over Assembly chambers.
In a statement Friday, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said “given that the Administration also dismissed security from the Chambers and removed the plexiglass shield at the same meeting, I can’t think of one charitable reason why the municipal manager attempted to stop the public broadcast of an Assembly meeting.”
“The video feed helps inform people about the Municipality’s business being conducted. It promotes openness and transparency. I would like to hear the municipal manager explain why she interfered with the people’s business by trying to shut down the video feed. There needs to be accountability for these actions. We must protect transparency and openness and ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
LaFrance has said that she was not consulted or informed before the removal of security, and that it created issues for the Assembly because though the police department was still in the chambers, it can only respond to disruptions that rise to criminal actions.
The administration has said that the Anchorage Police Department’s Community Action Policing Team remained in the chambers during that meeting and that there was “ample security in place.”
The Anchorage Assembly has since passed an ordinance that changes code to formally designate control over its meeting spaces to the Assembly chair. The majority of members say it clarifies the separation of powers with the administration, though Bronson has called it a “power grab” and, in a veto of the ordinance that the Assembly later overrode, Bronson contended that it’s against city charter and Alaska law.