Opinions

OPINION: It’s time to put politics aside to work for Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly

As Anchorage Assembly leadership, we frequently hear from constituents who want elected officials to put politics aside and work together for the benefit of the community. We hear you and we agree. Our priority for the Assembly is to keep this city moving in a positive, forward direction and see that municipal services are provided in a fair and fiscally responsible manner.

Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s not just up to us. The Assembly is in a fight that we didn’t pick. When Mayor Dave Bronson came in, the Assembly worked hard to support him -- we approved 90% of his executive appointments, we funded his navigation center, we helped his new staff navigate the Assembly process, and we partnered with him on advocating for Port of Alaska funding. As one with no government experience, Mayor Bronson’s learning curve was expected, but time after time he has chosen secrecy over transparency and politics over process.

As we mark Mayor Bronson’s first year in office, we look back on an unprecedented level of mismanagement of municipal resources, a lack of adherence to the municipal law, a lack of understanding of how our city works and a lack of respect for our government institutions and the public. The mayor ignored the budget that was lawfully passed by the Assembly. He scrapped programs and plans that were established in collaboration with community partners. He submitted unqualified nominees to key executive positions and boards. He requested multimillion-dollar funding for projects without accurate cost estimates or even basic due diligence.

Recently, the mayor used taxpayer dollars to send a political letter filled with disinformation on this year’s property taxes. He politicized youth by vetoing the Assembly’s proposal to expand the participant pool for the Assembly youth member. He also allowed his Human Resources director to exacerbate an alleged hostile workplace situation at the library by wearing a biased message on his T-shirt supporting the alleged perpetrator at an official government meeting, putting the Municipality’s taxpayers at risk of financial litigation losses.

Also of grave concern: His poorly planned and arbitrarily timed closing of the Sullivan Arena mass shelter has created an unnecessary crisis where hundreds of vulnerable Alaskans have been turned out with few options, leaving nonprofits scrambling to provide a safety net. While the community worked for years on a plan to house people experiencing homelessness, the mayor scrapped most of that work when he took office, relying on campaign slogans instead of meaningful dialogue. The facilitated negotiated process broke down when the administration was unwilling to participate in good faith. As a result, the city is now far behind in addressing a situation that we all knew was coming and could have been avoided. Instead of housing people, he sent them to a camp.

Meanwhile, under his guidance, some of his supporters have hijacked the public process to the point where others don’t feel safe attending Assembly meetings and voicing their opinions. What used to be healthy political debate has turned into an attack by a loud minority on the people and systems that keep our city running. The mayor and his supporters seem determined to break down our institutions and silence people with whom they disagree.

Despite this pressure, the Assembly is committed to making forward progress and has been taking care of business. In addition to weekly committee meetings, we meet at least twice a month to approve contracts to plow our roads, remove beetle-kill trees, and purchase firetrucks and other critical equipment. We update codes to support local businesses, adopt long-term community plans, and pass budgets to fund the services that keep Anchorage healthy, safe and productive.

We’ve also accomplished forward-looking projects, such as providing a safety net for local residents and businesses with the distribution of $214 million in federal aid, expanding the Mental Health Responders, funding school resource officers despite the mayor’s veto, advancing the city’s Anchored Home plan to reduce homelessness, strengthening our local supply chain by advancing the Port of Alaska Modernization, and streamlining municipal processes and cutting red tape for homebuilders. We keep the lights on.

Assembly leadership will continue efforts to build our workforce, assist local businesses, support our families, invest in our infrastructure, make our streets safer, and make government work for you. We encourage Anchorage residents to get involved, attend Assembly meetings, and contact elected officials with your ideas and concerns. Our community depends upon us all working together. Let’s not allow a small group of disrupters keep us from the important work at hand. Anchorage is a city where compassionate people help one another and put aside political differences to do great things. We plan to keep this going, and we hope you will join us.

Suzanne LaFrance and Christopher Constant are the chair and vice-chair of the Anchorage Assembly, respectively.

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