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Two former chiefs: Vote 'No' on Anchorage Prop. 1

Anchorage voters have the opportunity to repeal Anchorage Ordinance 37 in the Nov. 4 election by voting no on Municipality of Anchorage Proposition No. 1. As Anchorage's former police and fire chiefs, we strongly urge you to vote no.

A job with the Municipality of Anchorage once came with the promise of competitive pay, good benefits and a seat at the bargaining table. Represented by their unions, thousands of workers, including police, firefighters, utility workers, and many skilled, highly educated employees, worked together with management as a team to support a fair and safe community. As with all good teams, workers and management were committed because they had bought in to the single direction of that team; both sides were committed because each side had a say during negotiations for fair and safe working conditions.

But all of that changed in 2013, when AO 37 was passed, threatening to silence the workers' voices and, in turn, compromise public safety.

AO 37 does not reflect the will of the people or that of the majority of our leaders. The law only passed by a one-person majority in the Assembly; shortly after, two Assembly members reversed their decisions and voted to repeal it, but that vote was vetoed. A few weeks later, 20,000 registered voters filed petitions in support of a repeal, and were immediately challenged in court. Election Day Nov. 4 is our chance to finally tell our lawmakers what we want: to get rid of AO 37, and to protect our public safety.

AO 37 threatens public safety because it may have a negative impact on shift staffing, mandatory safety equipment and the retention of our quality trained municipal employees. Citizens elect their government leaders to protect and improve the health, safety and quality of life for all; instead, those leaders have attacked the very practice that best insures it, limiting public safety employees' seat at the table during labor contract negotiations. This is why AO 37 is so devastating; it violates the implicit promise of fairness, that all citizens will be heard.

If you are wondering how this affects you as a resident of Anchorage, let us be clear: AO 37 has the potential to pose a critical threat to our safety. Even without the implementation of AO 37, the Anchorage Police Department has had difficulty recruiting a full police academy for many years, leading to a dearth of trained, qualified police available to protect Anchorage. AO 37 will only make recruiting and retaining quality civil servants more difficult.

By not ensuring public safety workers' seat at the table, AO 37 opens the door for politicians to make safety-related decisions that will impact how many police are on the streets during a shift, what safety equipment paramedics carry, and how many firefighters staff trucks that respond to EMS and structure fire emergencies. They are likely not subject-matter experts on public safety.

AO 37 drastically changes long-established rules for negotiation of city contracts. Along with putting the decision of whether city employees can negotiate over safety equipment and staffing in the hands of politicians, AO 37 also limits benefits for city employees, shifts the authority to resolve disputes from a neutral third-party arbitrator to the Anchorage Assembly, and outsources some city services.

As the former police and fire chiefs of Anchorage, we have learned a thing or two about how much trust the public has, and needs to have, in public safety workers. We know that for our public employees, particularly those who work in around-the-clock shift schedules, the mere threat of AO 37 has taken a toll on the recruitment and retention of qualified employees.

We cannot predict exactly how AO 37 will affect Anchorage. We cannot provide a list of the crimes that will go unpunished, fires that will burn too long, or power outages that will last a day instead of an hour. But there will be consequences. We should not allow our city government to field test AO 37 on us.

Your vote is your voice; protect the seats at the table for trusted professionals. By keeping our well-trained safety forces intact, you can help keep Anchorage safe.

AO 37 is unsafe, unfair, and should be repealed. Vote no on Municipality of Anchorage Proposition 1.

Walt Monegan served the city of Anchorage in many capacities from patrolman to chief of police starting in 1974. Shortly after his retirement in 2006 he was appointed commissioner of Alaska's Department of Public Safety, serving until 2008.

Craig Goodrich began his public safety career in 1966, and joined the Anchorage Fire Department in 1974 as a firefighter. He was appointed State Fire Marshal in 1994, later returning to the fire department. He retired in 2009 after spending four years as chief.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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