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2 Assembly members quit Demboski-chaired panel without explanation

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 6, 2016

Two Anchorage Assembly members resigned last month from a committee that deals with city land use issues, but didn't explain why.

Bill Evans and Jennifer Johnston, both of South Anchorage, submitted resignations from the Assembly's Community and Economic Development Committee in mid-December. The formerly five-member committee, now with three members, is chaired by Amy Demboski of Eagle River, who lost the mayor's race last spring.

Neither Evans nor Johnston would explain their reasons for resigning.

"Different people have different ideas about … what constitutes a responsible representative," Evans said in an interview. "Beyond that, I wouldn't have any comment."

In a text message, Johnston, who chaired the committee before Demboski, wasn't any more forthcoming.

"There are 11 members on the Assembly. Each of us have different opinions on how to best be effective municipal legislators," Johnston wrote. "Therefore, I have no comment."

Demboski said in a text message that she couldn't comment. She said neither Johnston nor Evans spoke to her about their resignations.

In addition to Demboski, the remaining committee members are Ernie Hall and Pete Petersen.

Tension over email

At the most recent Assembly meeting, Hall rebuked Demboski for an email she sent to city attorneys Bill Falsey and Dean Gates and city clerks Barbara Jones and Amanda Moser on Dec. 11. Demboski's email criticized the city attorneys' rejection of ballot language on a referendum to repeal Anchorage's LGBT anti-discrimination law. Falsey had said the ballot language did not adequately describe the effects of the law being targeted for repeal.

Demboski accused the city attorneys and the city clerks of manipulation and unequal treatment, pointing to identical language that appeared in a November 2014 referendum on a city labor law.

Johnston resigned the day after Demboski's criticism, sending a 10-word email on Dec. 12 to Assembly Chair Dick Traini, who handles committee assignments: "It is time for me to leave this committee. Jennifer."

At the start of the Dec. 22 meeting, Hall, who chairs the city's Ethics and Elections Committee, did not name Demboski, but read her email about the referendum aloud during his committee report. He said Falsey and the city clerks were doing their jobs. He apologized to the officials for Demboski's criticisms.

When her turn came to deliver a committee report, Demboski identified herself as the author of the email and said she stood by it. She reiterated her position that "groups should be treated equitably" in the referendum process.

In a recent interview, Hall said Demboski's email led him to consider joining Johnston and Evans in resigning from the Community and Economic Development Committee. Hall said he decided to stay on, however, because he has several pieces of legislation that he's working on through the committee. In recent months, the committee has worked on revisions to city land use regulations, including a section on cell phone towers.

Traini said he couldn't say why Evans and Johnston resigned from the committee. Traini said he had no replacement committee assignment for Johnston because her term ends in April. He said he'll assign Evans to other committees.

Traini also said there's no minimum number of Assembly members that need to serve on a committee. He indicated he would likely wait until the April election to appoint new members.

Separately, the question of the ballot language for the referendum that would repeal that anti-discrimination ordinance remains unresolved. In an interview last week, Bernadette Wilson, the primary sponsor of the repeal effort, said the two sides were "at an impasse."

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