Police chief retirement and budget vetoes mark latest shakeup in Anchorage politics

a person inside a large tent
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with reporters inside the warming tent outside the Sullivan Arena shelter on Nov. 19, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Turbulence in Anchorage’s city politics continued Tuesday night with the chief of police announcing his retirement and the mayor vetoing most of the changes the Assembly made to the city’s budget last week. 

Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early has been following both developments, and is here to explain. 

Listen here:

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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Casey Grove: Wesley, let’s start with the departure of Police Chief Ken McCoy. He hadn’t been on the job long, had he?

Wesley Early: That’s right. McCoy was appointed as acting police chief in April by then-acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. His selection was pretty widely celebrated considering that he is the first Black police chief in the 100 years of the Anchorage Police Department. I think it’s worth remembering that this came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a nationwide call to action to hold police departments accountable. 

McCoy made the announcement Tuesday night that he’d retire in February of next year, and addressed his retirement during a Public Safety Committee meeting this morning. 

Here’s McCoy:

“It’s been a true honor and privilege for me to serve this community. I built my career on transparency and building community trust. And that’s the legacy that I hope to leave behind. That’s what I hope people remember about me, the chief that brought our community together.”

A black man in a police uniform and dark rimmed glasses smiles and a white man in a police uniform lookiing to the viewers right smiles
Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy and Deputy Chief Gerard Asselin at a news conference on June 8, 2021 (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

WE: An APD spokeswoman told me earlier today that McCoy is not making any additional statements at this time regarding his departure. 

CG: What efforts did McCoy make in his short tenure to address his points of transparency and building trust?

WE: I think one of the big things that McCoy worked on has been the new body worn camera policy for officers. Voters approved the purchase of cameras earlier this year, and since then the municipality, the police and other city stakeholders have been working on policies for those.

Public comment ended last month, and just going through the comments, which are available online, it sounds like there’s a lot of support for having body cameras, but most of the concerns stem from confusion over whether or not the public would be able to access camera footage. The ACLU has also criticized the latest iteration of the plan, since it doesn’t seem to have any punishments for officers who tamper with the cameras. 

McCoy says the department is still reviewing the public comments and working on adjusting the body cam policy before it’s implemented. 

CG: It sounds like McCoy still has some work to do before his retirement next year. Wesley, let’s switch gears to the other big city announcement last night. Mayor Dave Bronson vetoed a lot of the changes that Assembly made before passing the budget last week. Where were some of the cuts?

WE: There was very little that the Assembly added to the budget last week that the mayor didn’t veto. Some notable cuts included funding for police officers in public schools, building inspectors, community grants and some early education grants. Bronson also said no to moving the city’s team of responders for mental health crises from the police department to the fire department. He opted to use alcohol tax funding for epidemiologists rather than paying for them with health department funds like the Assembly wanted to do. 

Now these are all cuts that reflect the budget that Bronson proposed in October, so it’s not really surprising that he opted to veto them after the Assembly made their changes. A lot of it boils down to a difference in how much revenue the Assembly and the Bronson administration predict they’ll get next year. The Assembly projects similar revenues to pre-pandemic Anchorage, while the mayor’s team is being much more conservative. 

RELATED: Anchorage Assembly overrides Bronson veto, upholding emergency mask ordinance

CG: How likely is it that these vetoes will stick? The Assembly still has a chance to override these vetoes, don’t they?

WE: Right, and I imagine that it’s very likely that most if not all of his vetoes will get overturned. I think it’s worth saying that while Assembly members weren’t always in agreement on the various amendments passed by the body, the budget itself was passed unanimously. In a statement, Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar said that’s only the second time in municipal history that’s happened. The Assembly has already overridden the mayor’s vetoes before, since they have a pretty strong progressive and centrist majority. It probably won’t happen this week, but an Assembly spokeswoman said they’re likely to take up the vetoes either next Monday, or during next Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.
Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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