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Anchorage Assembly Faces Accusations of Open Meeting Law Violations

By | November 20, 2012 - 1:44 pm

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Members of the Anchorage Assembly may have broken state open meeting law. Three members of the Assembly allegedly drafted redistricting plans in private, meetings with no public notice. The assembly passed a version of the plan at the end of their regular meeting Tuesday.

Assembly member Patrick Flynn says three other assembly members put together city redistricting plans, with no input from the rest of the body or the community councils that represent neighborhoods throughout the municipality.

“They utilized a firm on a sole source contract that is very closely aligned with the Alaska Republican Party – seems somewhat inappropriate given the municipal offices are non-partisan by charter,” Flynn said. “And then they minimized public input by laying these items on the table as opposed to introducing them in the normal course of events in the agenda and then passed it on Tuesday night.”

The old and new voting districts don’t look much different, with the exception of the Airport Heights neighborhood. The current district splits Airport Heights north-south along Debarr. The district approved at Tuesday’s meeting migrates that boundary northward, moving Penland Park, a large trailer court across from Northway Mall, into the midtown district. Assembly members say they are under pressure to complete redistricting in time for approval by the U.S. Department of Justice to hold an election in April.

The process was so rushed, that Community council leaders like Daniel George of Mountain View, are speaking out.

“The biggest issue, I think, was the lack of public input,” George said. “The fact that there were community councils who were not aware of this change or that the only opportunity would be the next morning, I think was something that really didn’t give a chance to have that input that’s very, very necessary in the assembly redistricting process.”

Joe McKinnon is a retired Anchorage attorney who worked extensively on Alaska redistricting issues during the 80s. He says he spoke before the assembly at last Tuesday’s meeting to warm the body that the draft redistricting plans the committee came up with might be seen by federal authorities as discriminatory against minorities.

“I saw the maps they were proposing and it seemed to me in all four of the versions that they had as drafts that the population variances were too high,” McKinnon said. “And I primarily went there to suggest to them that if they balance the populations more that it would withstand any lawsuit that might be brought.”

McKinnon says he is also concerned that the Assembly seems to have violated State law.

“It violates that state’s open meeting act, which requires governmental bodies to conduct their business in public,” McKinnon said. “The Assembly’s covered by it and any assembly subcommittee is covered by it.”

“So they have an obligation to give public notice of the meeting and allow the public to observe.”

Assembly Chair Ernie Hall formed the ‘ad hoc’ committee to look at redistricting. He says he didn’t think he needed to notify the public of meetings of ‘ad hoc’ committees.

“We have to notice meetings if we have four assembly members in attendance at a meeting,” Hall said. “Those have to be noticed meetings, but if the chair appoints an ad hoc committee, such as this, those to my understanding don’t have to be a public notice.”

The plan that was approved at the end of last Tuesday’s Assembly meeting was one of several developed in the unnoticed meetings of the committee meetings. Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson says she is also unhappy with the way the plan was put together. But she thinks the rushed process was a necessity.

“The process was, in my opinion, unacceptable, but we really do have to move on as quickly as we can because it has to go to the Department of Justice who can take up to 60 days to tell us that everything’s a-okay and we can move on,” Gray-Jackson said. “And, as everybody knows, we have an April election that we’re preparing for right now.”

The next regular meeting of the Assembly is Nov. 27. A new redistricting plan, which moves Penland Park back downtown, increasing the population of the district, is on the agenda for consideration. A public hearing on that new version is set for mid-December.

 

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