Assembly sets June meeting to consider codifying process to remove Anchorage mayors for ‘breach of the public trust’
By Emily Goodykoontz
The Anchorage Assembly has set a special June 1 meeting to hear more public testimony and possibly vote on legislation that would add to city code a process for removing a mayor from office for a “breach of the public trust.”
Assembly members abruptly ended their regular meeting late Tuesday night in the midst of public testimony on the proposal, following a persistent disruption from an attendee who refused to leave the chambers after Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance called for security to intervene.
A larger-than-usual crowd filled much of the Assembly chambers Tuesday as residents gathered to speak about the proposed ordinance, with many there to protest it and express support for Mayor Dave Bronson.
The ordinance would add specific steps to city code for removing a mayor, as well as for officials elected to service area boards. Similar processes already exist for removing Assembly and school board members.
Assembly leaders have said they do not intend to use the ordinance, if passed, against Bronson. But Vice Chair Chris Constant, who proposed the ordinance, said the mayor’s actions did spur him to put it forward.
During his opening remarks, Bronson called the ordinance a “blatant attack on the office of the mayor.”
“No mayor should be subject to a coup by the Assembly that doesn’t agree with him politically,” he said.
Outside of regular elections, Anchorage mayors can only be removed through recall under current code. The ordinance would not affect the public’s ability to recall a mayor.
Constant has said he drafted the legislation after the Bronson administration did not implement the Assembly-approved city budget earlier this year and when Bronson officials first used their own version of a city budget as a baseline during the annual budget revision process. (They later agreed to use the Assembly-passed budget for revisions.)
Constant has said that he believes Bronson has ignored city code, which is law, in a “substantive way” since the mayor took office, and that he is not trying to remove Bronson from office but rather place “clear bumpers on the boundaries of his power.”
“Mr. Constant’s ordinance will do nothing but divide our community further and give enormous power to the Assembly, enabling them to remove any mayor — not just me — but all future mayors for any reason the Assembly deems to be a breach of public trust,” Bronson said.
Many Bronson supporters on Tuesday held up small signs during the meeting protesting Constant’s proposal — one said, “KEEP THE MAYOR DITCH THE ASSEMBLY!!!”
Not all who gathered Tuesday were there to support Bronson. One testifier, Yarrow Silvers, carried with her 12 recall applications against Bronson, and listed what she said she believes are the mayor’s multiple “recallable offenses.” Silvers is a co-founder of Anchorage Action, a local political group that has organized against the Bronson administration.
The ordinance lists 13 actions that would constitute a breach, such as “failure to faithfully execute the directives of a duly enacted ordinance” and a “substantial breach of a statutory, code or charter-imposed duty.”
According to the proposal, the process to remove a mayor would begin by 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 for legal sufficiency. If sufficient, the mayor would choose a legal representative to defend against the accusations, 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 clashed over several key city issues, including the budget, and have engaged in a power struggle since Bronson took office last July.
Before public testimony on the proposal began near the end of the more than six-hour meeting, LaFrance had announced that the Assembly would continue to hear testimony at the June special meeting next week.
By then, the meeting had already been punctuated by several disruptions, jeers, cheers and clapping from the crowd — reminiscent of a series of turbulent meetings on a proposed mask ordinance that stretched over two weeks last fall.
Bronson is a staunch opponent of mask mandates and other government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, and his supporters at the time repeatedly gathered to filibuster a vote on the proposed mask mandate with continuous public testimony against it.
During a work session on Constant’s proposal last week, Assembly member Kevin Cross warned the city could see a similar situation unfold again.
“If you thought the mask mandate brought people in, just wait and see. This is this is going to keep everybody very busy,” Cross said.
Though busy, Tuesday’s meeting drew fewer attendees than those meetings last fall.