Under a new measure, the Anchorage Assembly will oversee nominations for the Assembly’s youth representative, rather than the mayor-appointed Youth Advisory Commission — a code change opposed by the Assembly’s most recent youth member and the youth commission.
The Assembly passed the code changes in a 6-3 vote on Tuesday night, after a few heated exchanges between some Assembly members and public testimony largely opposing the measure, including testimony from youth commission members. Eagle River/Chugiak Assembly members Jamie Allard and Kevin Cross and South Anchorage member Randy Sulte voted against the measure.
The measure is the most recent flashpoint in ongoing clashes between the Assembly’s moderate-to-liberal leaning majority and the conservative Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration and his supporters.
Members of the youth commission and departing Assembly youth member Sarah Price have called the code change a retaliatory, partisan effort. They have said the changes suppress youth voices and undermine the power of the commission and Anchorage young people to choose their own representative. The commission earlier this month passed a resolution against the measure and called on the mayor to veto it.
Assembly leaders have said the change fixes a separation of powers issue because the commission, whose members are selected by the mayor’s administration, had been in charge of choosing nominees for the Assembly’s youth member position.
The youth representative is a voluntary position on the Assembly and was created in 2017. The youth member attends meetings and work sessions, providing perspective and acts as a voice for young people in Anchorage. The youth member can participate in discussions, ask questions and cast preferential votes, though the youth representative’s vote does not count.
The ordinance, which had been proposed by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, moves the section of city code governing the youth representative under the Assembly, rather than the part of code regulating the city’s boards and commissions, which are overseen by the mayor. It also made changes to the nomination process, putting the Assembly in charge of the nomination process, with an appointee chosen by the chair, which is then subject to a confirmation vote of the full Assembly. The youth commission can still make nominations, but oversight of the process now rests with the Assembly chair.
Previously, the Youth Advisory Commission had been in charge of soliciting applications and selecting nominees for the Assembly’s youth representative member. The Assembly chair appointed a nominee that then went to the members for a confirmation vote.
The youth commission has been soliciting nominations from community organizations and meeting with potential nominees to fill Price’s now-vacant seat, the commission’s chair, Rebekah Dunfee, told members during a work session on the code changes last week.
Price, who left the position earlier month, spoke against the proposal at a June 7 Assembly meeting.
“It would be presumptuous of the Assembly to believe that they could add a youth representative to be able to claim they care about the youth of Anchorage, but as soon as the youth representative has something to say or something to add, they can silence them,” Price said. “The youth representative is not a seat-filler. You cannot use the voices of Anchorage’s youth as a token and a political game.”
The youth commission in January nominated one of its own members — Price — for the youth representative seat.
Former commission member Lily Spiroski, who was appointed before Bronson became mayor, resigned earlier this year, citing a “hostile and unwelcoming” environment in an email to Assembly members. Spiroski, who is nonbinary, resigned after Denali Tshibaka, a Bronson-appointed member, gave a presentation that suggested segregating some LGBTQ and gender-identity themed literature in the public library. (The Bronson-appointed members of the commission include the son and daughter of Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and Niki Tshibaka, the city’s human resources director.)
Spiroski, in their January email, urged Assembly members not to fill the youth representative seat until applications became open to youth citywide, and not just commission members.
“The commission was created with the intent of being welcoming to ALL of Anchorage youth, not just who the Mayor agrees with,” Spiroski said in the email.
On Tuesday night, two testifiers opposing the measure stood in silence and wore pieces of tape over their mouths. The women held up signs, one that said “do not silence the future,” and another, “youth voices matter.”
LaFrance said the changes open the door for broader community input into nominations and that the commission and an Assembly position should be regulated by the Assembly, not the mayor.
“The Youth Advisory Commission is one stakeholder among others, and there is an opportunity here to take a look at that,” LaFrance said in an interview. “Is that the best model for our community, to have a group that’s appointed by the mayor, pick the young person who gets to be on the Assembly?”
The Assembly youth representative position was vacant for about two years until the Assembly confirmed Price’s appointment last month. LaFrance said she proposed the changes after reviewing the code when the Assembly received Price’s nomination. She said the measure is not a political effort, but is meant to “correct shortcomings” in the city code.
“We want lots of youth to apply for this process, and why not have both the executive and legislative branches recruiting young people? Why not do that?” LaFrance said. “I don’t look at things the same way they they do and it’s regrettable that it’s being framed through an ideological lens when it’s about policy.”
LaFrance is also drafting a resolution that, if passed, would form a community task force to review the position and discuss providing training and support for the youth representative and youth commission members, among other measures.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the previous selection process for the Anchorage Assembly’s youth representative. Under previous city code, the chair of the Assembly was in charge of selecting an appointee from the nominees chosen by the commission. Under new city code, the chair is still in charge of selecting an appointee, but the nomination process is up to the Assembly. The commission can still bring forward nominations.