Assembly Postpones Public Testimony Decision

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to postpone indefinitely an ordinance that would have changed the way that public hearings are conducted.

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The Assembly has made a habit of moving public testimony to the end of meetings. So it wasn’t a surprise that they did so with an ordinance meant overhaul the public hearing system. Richard Evans of Spenard protested and was allowed to testify earlier because he said he had to return to work. He said the ordinance was bad.

“This is retroactive justice. A gentleman in the audience told me about this earlier. Trying to justify the decisions made on AO37. What I see is an attempt by certain members of this assembly to silence descent. People who are dissenting against what appears to be a personal attack against the people of this city. When I heard about this I jetted over here just as fast as I could because this is very important to me,” Evans said.

Assembly Chair Ernie Hall crafted the ordinance with help from the ACLU of Alaska. It was a response to crowded public hearings on AO37, a law limiting unions, which was passed in March after weeks of packed public hearings that the body voted to closed before everyone had a chance to testify. The new ordinance would have required people to sign up on the first evening of a public hearing in order to testify, even if the hearing was continued. New Assembly member, Amy Demboski, said she thought the ordinance would create more order in a haphazard process. But Sheila Selkregg, a University professor and former Anchorage Assembly member, said the new ordinance was too limiting because it would not allow people to respond to laws as they are being crafted.

“I waited on AO37 because I wanted to know what the S version was. I didn’t want to speak at the beginning to something that really wasn’t full of content,” Selkregg said.

Some said requiring people to sign up on the first night of testimony would limit those with night work, family and community obligations from participating in city politics. Deborah Kelly, who wore a sweatshirt with a union logo on the back, said she works for the city, along with many who do 24 hour shift work and who might be kept from testifying if the ordinance passed.

“They’re not always able to come to Assembly meetings and I really think that they should have the opportunity too, to make their thoughts known. I mean, a person caring for an ailing family member — should they not have the same rights as other citizens. I realize that it’s a messy process sometimes but democracy’s supposed to be messy. I mean, it’s supposed to be messy, but it’s supposed to be fair. And I mean, it’s gotta look fair,” Kelly said.

After hearing from the public, the Assembly voted unanimously to postpone the issue indefinitely. Assembly Chair Hall said he was disappointed because the Assembly had not developed a protocol that addressed the issue of how to conduct public hearings involving large numbers of people … an issue that he said was sure to eventually come up again.