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Housing for alcoholics, police recruitment discussed at Berkowitz transition subcommittee meeting

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 3, 2015

Land use associated with housing homeless alcoholics, police recruitment and strategies to curb community violence were among the top issues Wednesday in one of the first transition subcommittee meetings convened by incoming Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

The subcommittees have their opening rounds this week as Berkowitz and his transition team aim to convert a campaign into a blueprint for a new administration. The meeting Wednesday focused on public safety, one of the most prominent topics of the mayoral campaign, and much time was spent briefing committee members on the state of the city's police, fire and health departments.

In a brief appearance at the conference room in the Cook Inlet Region Inc. building in Midtown, Berkowitz told committee members to "think creatively and broadly" in coming up with recommendations for his administration.

"I'm just here to encourage you to be somewhat visionary in your thinking," said Berkowitz, who becomes mayor July 1. "I don't want you to be too granular in your analysis of what's going on with police, fire department, Department of Health and Social Services."

He said in an interview afterward that he's giving similar directives to the four other subcommittees assembled by his transition team.

In addition to 11 subcommittee members, two of Berkowitz's rivals in his bid for mayor were in the room: Andrew Halcro, who has been appointed transition team co-chair, and Dan Coffey, former chair of the Anchorage Assembly. Coffey said he planned to attend subcommittee meetings and watch for "errors and omissions" based on his years of involvement in city affairs.

The public safety subcommittee heard presentations from Anchorage police and fire officials, as well as the head of the city Department of Health and Human Services. Afterward, committee members peppered the officials with questions. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, asked several questions about language access and interpreter services, including for 911 calls.

Carmen Gutierrez, former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections and a co-chair of the subcommittee, asked city health department director Melinda Freemon how city zoning codes impact the development of "Housing First" projects, which provide housing for street alcoholics. She asked Freemon to provide a "top 10" list of potential zoning changes that could favor the development of more facilities.

At the end of the presentations, subcommittee member Steve Williams, chief operating officer for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, said it would be helpful to know whether strategies the group planned to discuss had already been explored by the city to avoid "reinventing the wheel."

Wednesday's meeting was the second of what will be a series of public meetings to formulate a lengthy transition report to the new administration. In 2009, the report produced for Mayor Dan Sullivan was more than 300 pages long.

Four town hall meetings have also been scheduled, starting June 16 at the Fairview Recreation Center.

Berkowitz's activities this week have included meetings with officials at Eklutna Inc. and the Rasmuson Foundation.

He said Wednesday that he's also been meeting the heads of city departments, mainly to learn more about the inner workings of each department.

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