A construction crew last week began installing bullet-resistant panels to shield Anchorage Assembly members and city officials at meetings.
Fiberglass "ballistic panels" were mounted inside the plywood of the dais where Assembly members and city officials sit during meetings. The city paid about $35,000 for the installation, which officials say will be finished before the upcoming Assembly meeting. The Assembly chambers are in the Loussac Library building in Midtown.
An Anchorage police spokeswoman said no threats had been made against Assembly members. But Midtown Assembly member Dick Traini, who strongly supported reinforcing the chambers, said the extra precautions are a good idea.
"It makes sense," said Traini, who in 2008 successfully pushed to arm security guards at Assembly meetings. "Because sometimes people do get upset at us."
The recommendation stemmed from a safety study the city conducted on the Assembly chambers about three years ago, Traini said.
Traini also said, however, that he doesn't want to see metal detectors or signs saying people can't carry weapons in the chambers.
"That's a constitutional right," he said.
State law bans concealed weapons from certain places, including child care facilities, courtrooms and domestic violence shelters. In most other cases, property owners or managers have the ability to restrict or deny concealed weapons on the premises.
A sign posted outside the state Capitol in Juneau tells visitors, "No weapons or firearms except law enforcement officers."
Anchorage police spokeswoman Anita Shell said that, to her knowledge, no shots have ever been fired in the Anchorage Assembly chambers. She said police weren't aware of any specific threats recently against individual Assembly members.
"(The Assembly) is being a little proactive," she said.
Traini, though, pointed to deadly incidents erupting at local government meetings in the Lower 48. In early 2008, in Kirkwood, Missouri, a disgruntled city contractor opened fire at a city council meeting, shooting and killing two police officers and three city officials before he was killed.
That and similar incidents prompted Traini to successfully push to allow security guards at the Assembly chambers to carry weapons, and more recently for the bullet-resistant paneling.
"If something like that happened (here), and you dive under the dais, it's quarter-inch plywood," Traini said. "You might as well shove a pen through it."
Other Assembly members were more skeptical of the security upgrade. Patrick Flynn called it "a waste of money."
"I don't fear for my life as an Assembly member," Flynn said.
Elected officials in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough got similar protections in 2013 with the $7.2 million expansion of the borough's Dorothy Swanda Jones building in Palmer, which included new Assembly chambers.
The dais where the Mat-Su Assembly, mayor, clerk, attorney and manager sit during meetings has bulletproof protection that cost $8,000 to $10,000 for materials and installation, according to borough manager John Moosey.