After Anchorage Assembly passes rules to assert authority, Mayor Bronson accuses it of a ‘power grab’

masked woman speaks into microphone
Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance addresses another Assembly member during a Sept. 30, 2021 meeting. (Wesley Early/AKPM)

The Anchorage Assembly approved two ordinances during its Wednesday night meeting aimed at asserting its authority over the chamber and the city’s mayoral appointee confirmation process, adding to the friction between the progressive body and conservative Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration.

One of the ordinances gives the Assembly control over security, safety, occupancy and other aspects of the Assembly chamber. It includes allowing the body to enforce health rules, like the mask mandate and social distancing requirements the Assembly passed last month. 

At an October meeting, Mayor Bronson dismissed security from Assembly chambers and instructed his staff to remove a safety barrier. At the time, Assembly members also accused the mayor’s administration of attempting to cut the live video feed of the meeting.

“This ordinance was drafted as a response to an unprecedented move by an executive to suggest that Assembly chambers are under the authority of the mayor,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.

While traditionally, the Assembly has exercised authority over the Assembly chamber, the mayor’s administration argued that state law grants the mayor control of city buildings. 

RELATED: Anchorage Assembly confirms Bronson’s pick for health director

“The executive has control over real and personal property of the municipality,” said City Manager Amy Demboski. “Whether we like it or not, the buildings, facilities and real and personal property are under the control of the mayor.”

Bronson described the ordinance as a “power grab” from the Assembly during his report at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting.

“This ordinance violates charter, state law, and notions of separation of powers and is a partisan attack by the Anchorage Assembly to do things they were not elected or legally authorized to do,” Bronson said in a Facebook statement after the ordinance was approved.

Midtown Assembly member Meg Zaletel defended the ordinance as non-partisan.

“It’s not about personalities or who occupies this seat or that seat or any seat here,” she said. “It clarifies the authority of one branch of government, and is not an attack on the other branch of government.”

The ordinance was approved with an 8-2 vote with Eagle River members Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard voting against it. Allard said she believed the Assembly was breaking the law by passing the ordinance.

Anchorage Assembly Jamie Allard addresses the rest of the Assembly at an Oct. 7 meeting. She’s seated by municipal manager Amy Demboski (left) and Mayor Dave Bronson. (Wesley Early/AKPM)

The second ordinance changes how mayoral appointees can be confirmed by the Assembly. Ordinarily, when a mayor appoints staff who require confirmation, the quickly request an Assembly confirmation hearing. Assembly members have criticized Mayor Bronson for not submitting his requests in a timely manner. Under prior code, appointees could serve for as long as six months without being confirmed by the Assembly.

The new ordinance would require the mayor to request a confirmation hearing within 60 days of appointing someone to a position that requires Assembly approval. If the request is not submitted within 60 days, the Assembly chair can schedule a confirmation hearing.

Kennedy and Allard tried to amend the ordinance to allow for the mayor to automatically approve somebody for a position if the Assembly voted down three consecutive appointees.

“There is certainly the potential for the Assembly to abuse its power and just continually deny, deny, deny, reject, reject, reject,” Kennedy said. “And this would be a way of curbing that potential, making sure that the Assembly realizes that there’s not an unlimited number of denials for candidates.”

The Kennedy-Allard amendment failed 2-9. The ordinance was approved 9-2, with Kennedy and Allard opposed.

The Assembly will meet on Friday to decide whether to confirm Mayor Bronson’s pick for city health director, Joe Gerace.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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