Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson vetoed an ordinance that added rules and procedures to city code for conducting Assembly meetings, saying that some of the rules violate free speech and state laws about firearms and calling it “another attempt” by the Assembly to take power away from the executive branch of municipal government.
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said that most of the changes the ordinance made to city law codified and clarified procedures and customs the Assembly had long been using.
“These changes are reasonable and help to ensure efficiency and safety in the chambers,” LaFrance said.
The Assembly will hold a meeting in the coming days to hold a vote on whether to overturn the mayor’s veto, she said. A supermajority of eight votes is needed to override the veto.
A spokesman for the Bronson administration did not immediately return a phone call to answer questions about the veto.
In the veto, issued Wednesday, Bronson said the ordinance “(1) impermissibly infringes upon free speech; (2) is inconsistent with state law related to the possession and carrying of firearms and knives; and (3) impermissibly transfers executive powers of executive branch to the Assembly.”
The mayor in the veto took issue with three specific parts of the ordinance, including a line that specifies that the Assembly chair has the authority to “prohibit members of the public from bringing dangerous or distracting items to Assembly premises, or to require an item to be removed from Assembly premises if it is being used to create an actual disturbance.”
Bronson contended that the section could be used by the chair to restrict people attending Assembly meetings from carrying a firearm or knife, which he called “inconsistent with state law.”
Assembly leaders disagreed, and said the section is referring to other types of of objects that have been brought into sometimes tense and chaotic meetings by members of the public over the last two years.
Legally possessed firearms that aren’t used to create a disturbance are allowed in Assembly chambers, according to Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant.
“When you read the ordinance, nowhere in it does it talk about guns or firearms or weapons or anything,” Constant said. “It does talk about objects that are used in a threatening manner, which are not allowed, which tends to be flagpoles, big sticks, clubs — things that historically folks have brought in — giant signs — things that are distracting and disruptive to the meeting.”
During a meeting last year on a proposed mask ordinance, a man who was escorted out by police was found to be carrying a concealed gun. However, he was not removed from the chambers or arrested because he had a weapon in the chambers, Constant said.
He was arrested for creating a disruption and for failing to disclose to police that he was carrying a concealed weapon. The man was charged with disorderly conduct and misconduct involving a weapon.
Constant said this ordinance has nothing to do with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and accused Bronson of attempting to rile his conservative base of supporters.
“He’s just making that up to raise people’s ire,” Constant said.
The mayor also took issue with a section of the ordinance clarifying that the Assembly chair has the “right to direct security guards at Assembly chambers, in furtherance of Assembly meeting purposes.”
In the veto, Bronson said that the contract of the security company, Securitas Security Services, is administered by the executive branch.
“Any attempt by the Assembly to exercise control over the contractor is inappropriate,” he said in the veto.
Bronson and the Assembly have engaged in a power struggle over control of the Assembly chambers and other issues. In October, during the series of meetings that stretched over two weeks on the proposed mask ordinance, Bronson’s administration asserted control by pulling security guards during a packed and unruly meeting and removing a plexiglass shield standing between testifiers and Assembly members that was being used for COVID-19 mitigation.
“To be able to direct security, to ensure public safety and order and efficiency is within the rights of the chair,” LaFrance said. The Assembly chair represents the majority on the Assembly, which can vote to override the chair or choose a new one, she said.
Restricting the Assembly’s ability to give directions to security guards restricts all Assembly members and restricts the rights and safety of “the people who are represented by Assembly members,” she said.
Bronson also said that the ordinance restricts the manner in which testifiers can express free speech, referring to a part of it that specifies a testifier can use their time to silently protest, but “while doing so, must not prevent or delay other members of the public from providing testimony while the individual’s silent protest continues.”
The mayor argued that the law “encourages verbal expression while disfavoring non-verbal expression.”
Assembly leaders also disagreed with that point, saying that the meetings, while public, are a limited forum and that the Assembly must stay focused on its agenda, moving ahead in a timely manner for it to ensure that municipal services continue without disruption.
“We’ve got to have some reasonable rules to ensure that people can be heard, that the business proceedings are able to move forward. I mean, it’s a business meeting, first and foremost,” LaFrance said.