The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday overturned Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of its contentious emergency mask ordinance.
In a 9-2 vote, soon after the meeting started, the Assembly upheld its initial vote on the ordinance, which requires most people to wear a mask in indoor, public spaces. The masking rules start immediately.
“I’m not doing this to spite the mayor or because he objects,” said Assembly member Chris Constant who voted to override the mayor’s veto. “I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”
People in the crowd booed.
Eagle River/Chugiak Assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy cast the dissenting votes.
“One of the things that I think has become abundantly clear, especially just in the last few hours, is how divisive this community is over this issue,” said Kennedy. “And the only thing that this particular override does is fuel that fire.”
The Assembly’s decision to override Bronson’s veto punctuates weeks of sparring over whether the city should require face masks as COVID-19 infections surge.
The emergency mask ordinance was first introduced by Assembly members Pete Petersen and Meg Zaletel at the Assembly meeting on Tuesday, late in the evening. It was passed in a 9-1 vote.
“This is not something done lightly,” Zaletel said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It is done after a considerable amount of public input. But the time to act is now. We need to do it.”
Bronson, a vehement mask mandate opponent, immediately criticized the ordinance after it passed, and vetoed it on Wednesday. He blasted the Assembly for introducing and approving the ordinance ahead of continued public testimony on another, similar proposed mask mandate.
After the vote to override his veto, Bronson said he wasn’t surprised at the result.
“The nine members who voted for this mask mandate ignored the public process, shut down public testimony, shut out the people, and decided that they (not you or your healthcare provider) will make decisions about your personal health,” Bronson said in a statement released shortly after the override.
Despite not having the votes to stop the masking mandate, Bronson said, he vetoed the ordinance on principle. Now that the ordinance has passed, he said he’s focused on making sure community members know what’s in it.
“I just encourage everyone to get online and read it and see how it applies to every individual,” he said in an interview.
Following the vote to override, the Assembly allotted the remaining meeting time to comments from the audience. The four people who spoke were strongly opposed to the masking ordinance.
The Assembly adjourned the meeting after 30 minutes.
The ordinance mandates that people wear masks in indoor public places and in communal spaces. Children under age 5, people in police custody, people participating in sports, people at church and Mayor Bronson’s administration are exempt from the mandate.
Businesses must deny entry to people who aren’t wearing masks. They must also ensure that employees have access to masks when required.
The ordinance could last as long as 60 days or until two of the city’s three hospitals are not operating at crisis levels or Anchorage doesn’t have a high rate of COVID-19 spread.