Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on process to remove a mayor for ‘breach of public trust’
By Emily Goodykoontz
The Anchorage Assembly on Wednesday postponed to next week a vote on legislation that would add to city code a process for removing a mayor from office for a “breach of the public trust.”
Vehement public testimony against the measure included yelling, clapping, singing, occasional profanity and calls for Assembly members to resign. Two people were removed by security.
After the public testimony ended at Wednesday’s special meeting on the proposal, Assembly members ultimately postponed their debate and vote to their June 7 meeting.
Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia urged members to postpone it in order to review new information. The Assembly’s legal counsel was not present to advise at the meeting.
“The public has brought forward a number of new questions that we need to get answered, both, I think, from this body and from legal,” Perez-Verdia said. “I think it’s proper to take a little bit more time before debate. I think there needs to be a robust debate about this, clearly.”
The ordinance would add specific steps to city code for removing a mayor, as well as officials elected to service area boards. Similar processes already exist for removing Assembly and school board members.
Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant, who proposed the ordinance, has said the mayor’s actions did prompt him to draft it but that he doesn’t plan to try to enact it over Bronson’s past actions. Constant has said he was finally propelled by the Bronson administration’s refusal to implement the Assembly-passed city budget. The administration instead used the mayor’s version of a budget for months.
Bronson has called Constant’s proposal a “blatant attack on the office of the mayor” and issued calls for people to attend the meeting to speak against it. In a Tuesday Facebook post, Bronson also called the ordinance “radical and politically motivated.”
Nearly all testifiers on Wednesday opposed it. Many echoed the mayor’s assertion, saying they believe the ordinance violates the separation of powers between the Assembly and mayor and gives the Assembly too much power. Many testifiers also questioned the Assembly’s timing, saying they believe the members will use it against Bronson. Others said the removal of a mayor should only be up to voters through a recall referendum, though the ordinance does not impact the right to recall Anchorage elected officials.
Constant’s proposal has elicited anger from some of Bronson’s supporters.
One man opposed to it left Constant a menacing, homophobic voicemail before the meeting that included statements that Constant called “scary” and threatening.
“I want to see you get smoked so bad, and you’re going to, too,” the man said in the more than two-minute voicemail.
Constant said he has reported the man’s message to Anchorage police.
During the meeting, some commenters called for the removal of Assembly members.
“Resign, Constant,” said one man.
Other testimony against the ordinance was more measured.
Rachel Ries, vice president of Huffman-O’Malley Community Council, read aloud a resolution in opposition from the council, saying the council views the legislation “as a threat to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch.”
The proposal would “create instability, division, and discord” in the municipality, the community council resolution states.
After the meeting, Constant said he continues to believe that the ordinance is necessary.
The mayor, who was in attendance Wednesday, did not speak.
Assembly leaders had set a special meeting to finish public testimony and possibly vote on the ordinance after hearing the first round of public testimony on it during the regular Assembly meeting last week. That meeting drew a larger than usual number of attendees and Assembly leaders ended the meeting abruptly, in the midst of public testimony, following a persistent disruption from one person who refused to leave.
On Wednesday, the Assembly heard public testimony for more than four hours, until no more people stood in line to speak.
After the postponement, Assembly member Jamie Allard — who at several points clashed with Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance over the chair’s rulings on meeting proceedings — moved to extend the meeting for one hour to hear closing audience comments. When Allard’s motion failed and the meeting ended on schedule, many attendees in the chambers erupted in a momentary chant:
“Shame, shame, shame,” they said repeatedly.
The proposed ordinance lists 13 actions that would constitute a breach of public trust from a mayor.
The removal process would begin with the Assembly holding a majority vote on grounds for removal. Those grounds would then be reviewed by the municipal attorney or a third-party attorney hired by the Assembly. If the grounds were to be found legally sufficient, the mayor would choose a legal representative, and an agreed-upon officer would conduct a hearing, evaluate any evidence and make a recommendation to the Assembly. The Assembly would then vote on removal, needing a two-thirds majority to unseat a mayor.
The Assembly’s eight moderate-to-progressive leaning members currently constitute a two-thirds majority. They and the conservative mayor have been locked in a power struggle since Bronson took office last year, clashing over several key city issues, including the budget.