The Anchorage Assembly Tuesday voted to extend the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration for the fifth time.
The vote came after a contentious start to the meeting, during which Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s resignation was announced by his Chief of Staff, Jason Bockenstedt.
Assembly members struggled to keep the crowd from shouting over the discussion.
Outside of assembly chambers, a group of about twenty demonstrated against the mayor’s policies while a smaller group of about a dozen gathered in support of keeping public health restrictions in place.
Several members of the public spoke at the meeting in opposition to the extension, including Bernadette Wilson.
“You don’t even know who among you is going to be the mayor but you want to extend powers? Seven months, I’m here to remind you, it’s been seven months to flatten a curve. There has been no curve. We are tired of your Nixle emergency alerts. There is no emergency,” said Wilson.
Assembly member Jamie Allard also opposed extending the emergency declaration.
“How can we possibly extend emergency powers to a man that has just currently resigned? To such poor judgement that is now negatively impacting the leadership of this administration and our city,” said Allard.
The emergency declaration has allowed the mayor to make quick decisions related to the pandemic without assembly approval. In a report to the assembly, City Manager Bill Falsey said it has allowed the city to repurpose resources and relaxes procurement rules. It also allows the mayor to issue public health orders establishing measures like the city’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions at businesses. The assembly can repeal those mandates.
“The extension of the mayor’s emergency proclamation doesn’t itself require all of those orders to remain in place, as in the beginning of the disaster and the emergency, we came to the assembly and said it will be too difficult to put the assembly in a position of saying it is all or nothing,” said Falsey. “We would like to confer upon the assembly the ability to turn individual orders on and off.”
Assembly member Suzanne LaFrance said the pandemic continues to be a challenge for the city, but she said the assembly needs to transition to a more permanent solution.
“Over the past six months we’ve taken a broad range of steps to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on our citizens,” said LaFrance. “But we should now also consider exercising our legislative responsibilities to consider how to transition out of a perpetual state of emergency.”
LaFrance proposed extending the declaration until Nov. 30, rather than Dec. 31 as initially written. That amendment passed, as did an amendment proposed by Crystal Kennedy to clarify that the intent of the extension is to allow for time to transition back to normal municipal processes.
The assembly also agreed to hold a public hearing before any further extension of emergency powers.
Alaska Public Media reporter Lex Treinen contributed to this report.