Wednesday night played host to a special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly that afforded residents the chance to weigh in on dueling proposals prescribing what to do about the referendum on the city’s labor law rewrite.
The sentence you just read is as verbose as a current proposal to delay the referendum vote is lacking in precedent, logic, and benefit to the taxpayers.
Municipal Charter instructs that, upon certification of the necessary signatures, a referendum must occur in one of two ways: special election or regular municipal election, no more than 75 days after certification of the referendum. At the center of the current debate are two agenda items held over from last night’s regular meeting.
The first is standard protocol requesting that the assembly skip the exorbitant costs of holding a special election and put the Ordinance 37 referendum on the general ballot, slated for April 4. The second offers a more creative version, devoid of precedent, placing the same referendum on either the 2014 general election ballot (along with statewide and midterm elections) or the April 2015 ballot.
The reasons cited by the latter option’s proponents include keeping costs down, avoiding redistricting litigation currently going on in the Alaska Supreme Court, and allowing the time to prepare election workers. The main problem with these objections is that each severely lacks legs.
A special election has been estimated, by the municipal clerk’s office, to cost the city between $280,000-$470,000. Putting it on the November election would not save any money and would strain resources, as statewide elections are run independent of municipal elections and would require separate staffs, ballots, ballot machines, and election workers.
And even if the courts were to rule in favor of the challenges to our redistricted redistricting debacle, just one small portion of one district that touches Eagle River would be affected within the municipality.
Alaska elected close to an entire legislature based on faulty districts in 2012, but we’re to hold up a qualified voter referendum because of a hypothetical decision that leads to nothing of consequence.
That doesn’t make much sense.
Put simply, there is no logical reason – cost to taxpayers, preparedness of election workers, or court battles – to break from the procedure clearly laid out in the Anchorage Charter and delay the referendum until November or the following April.
The only open-ended question going into the continued meeting was the city’s appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court on whether or not Ordinance 37 was subject to the democratic process. City Attorney Dennis Wheeler has argued, on behalf of the Sullivan Administration, that the labor rewrite was an administrative move, not a legislative action, and therefore not subject to a referendum. But in the first half hour of the meeting, Alaska AFL-CIO Director of Operations Joelle Hall offered testimony saying that this, too, would not affect the scheduled April vote:
The Coalition of Municipal Unions counsel and the city counsel met with the clerk of the Supreme Court today, and we were successful in negotiating a schedule by which we will have a resolution to the appeal prior to the deadline for ballots to be drafted by the clerk. So, the court and the two bodies have agreed to brief on the appropriate schedule and to have the results to the clerk by February 6. So, the issue of addressing the appeal prior to the April 4th is absolutely going to happen. That will be done. The court has granted us expedited consideration.
One of the final residents to give testimony offered a sober reflection on the process that resulted in Wednesday night’s hearing, saying that “At this point in the game, if Vic Kohring moved to South Anchorage, got a post office box, couch surfed, and promised not to touch a plastic Easter egg, I would probably vote for him… above my current representation.”
(Also, Mr. Kohring, don’t.)
After dozens testified, the dueling proposals were replaced with two more proposals. Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston postponed action on the two current proposals until the October 22 regular assembly meeting. Assemblyman Dick Traini introduced a laid on the table (read: all of a sudden) item that would repeal the controversial labor law outright, no public vote needed. While this would be a hard-to-explain-away defeat by the Sullivan administration, it would decrease the chances of losing his supportive majority on the assembly, come April, and eliminate it from being a hindrance to his bid for lieutenant governor, come the following November. It also grants another round of public testimony on the matter.
The biggest ear-perking takeaway from Traini’s last-minute move should be that Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr, an unabashed conservative who generally follows Sullivan’s lead, listed himself alongside Traini and East Side Assemblyman Paul Honeman as a cosponsor. That could possibly set up a major shakeup at the next meeting, where, presumably, we finally arrive at some sort of resolution.