Home Politics Assembly Beat: Anchorage Assembly Beat: There Shall Be Tennis, Conflicts, and Confusion.

Assembly Beat: There Shall Be Tennis, Conflicts, and Confusion.


So, how about let’s finish the year off with a bang?
Give us money for things. Please, sir…
The 2014 Legislative Program was adopted. This is essentially the list of things we ask the legislature to fund. This year, the price tag clocks in at over $1.3 billion.
Chuckling over proposed amendments to slightly reduce the quarter of a billion dollars for expansion of the Port of Anchorage, Patrick Flynn shrugged: “We’re not going to get it anyway.”
April’s election that may or may not happen and the birth of a hashtag.
All ordinances pertaining to April’s election-that-may-or-may-not-happen (#AETMOMNH) have been delegated to the elections committee to take up. Work sessions will be scheduled and the bills will be vetted.
One such proposal regarding #AETMOMNH, authored by Chris Birch, would extend all current members’ current terms through to November and amend city code so that Assembly members can sponsor and vote on legislation changing their term lengths without that being considered a conflict of interest. More info on why this is ridiculous here.
The other two ordinances, authored by members Elvi Gray-Jackson, Dick Traini, and Tim Steele, would propose a ballot initiative asking voters if they would support a date change for #AETMOMNH, moving it from April to November, but without having to set a new precedent codifying that clear conflicts of interest are no big thing and best ignored.
There shall be tennis.
On to the tennis court finale!
Steele introduced a substitute version of the bill the municipality has been talking about for months now. His recommendation would have dedicated $3.3 million to the Sullivan Arena for repairs, $1 million for assorted Project 80’s facilities, and $6.2 million for the multi-use sports facility which would include the public indoor tennis courts. He said that it would “get us out of the loop we’ve been in.”
Chris Birch said “I approve of anything that will put this matter to bed.”
Starr said there is plenty of time, and replied: “Sorry your wore yourself out Mr. Birch.” The senior assembly person from Eagle River said that other facilities are a mess, and “when you pull $6-and-a-half million” away from those other facilities, it creates a situation where you might as well close those facilities. “It’s a nice effort to put finality to it,” but he didn’t believe it cut it.
Steele’s effort failed by a 5-6 margin. Starr’s colleague, Amy Demboski, moved a substitute version, which wrapped the $10.5 million appropriation from the legislature into a bond package to be voted on by the public. She said that the assembly was left out of the loop when the administration went to Juneau to lobby for the sports facility’s appropriation. She felt that process was a big issue, and felt that the voters should get to weigh in.
Birch thought that forcing voters to go to the ballot to decide on accepting an appropriation “establishes a terrible precedent.”
He chooses strange precedents to object to.
Jennifer Johnston threw in an impromptu amendment that stripped the bond part out, thus allocating the legislative appropriation, in the full amount of $10.5 million, to Project 80’s funding.
A lot of really confusing things happened next. I had a beer, a moment of facebook-venting, and continued in time for things to enter a new level of frustratingly interesting.
After the hullabaloo regarding Johnston’s amendment had subsided and the amendment, itself, was resurrected from being voted down, the ordinance was left with the following language:

The legislative grant, when tendered, from Senate Bill 18 from the State of Alaska of ten million five hundred thousand dollars ($10,500,000) is hereby appropriated to the Public Works Department as: $10,500,000 Areawide Capital Improvement Fund (401) for various facility improvements, as indicated in the attached table. This resolution shall be effective immediately upon passage and approval by the Assembly.

Demboski set the specific distribution of the appropriations this way:

  • $3.8 million for Sullivan Arena repairs and upgrades.
  • $1.1 million for Ben Boeke Ice Arena upgrades and renovations.
  • $520,000 for Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena improvements and upgrades.
  • $4.9 million for the future multi-use sports facility – including the public indoor tennis courts.

East Anchorage Assemblyman Paul Honeman unintentionally made things a lot more interesting when he proposed an amendment, taking $500,000 from tennis-courts-included-multi-use-sports-facility funding and putting it towards a new boiler for the Sullivan Arena.
Then, the proverbial shit got weird.
“Mr. Chairman,” Mayor Sullivan’s voice interrupted lighthearted banter between Chair Hall and Assemblyman Dick Traini. “I veto that amendment.”
He vetoed an amendment? This was not something I had heard before. I wasn’t alone.
“Mr. Chairman,” Assemblywoman Demboski piped in. “I would like to ask Assembly counsel a question regarding vetoes, if I may. Ms. Tucker, I understand the mayor has veto authority to veto legislation that’s passed this [body]. Does that include products in work, or is that limited to something that’s actually completed?”
Julia Tucker, the Assembly’s attorney, responded: “The mayor does not have veto authority over actions that are still within the control of the assembly[.]”
Demboski, in fashion worthy of a standing ovation:

Mr. Chairman, in light of comments from assembly counsel, I object to the executive branch’s attempt to interfere with the legislative process of this body. Mr. Chairman, I recognize that the mayor has the ability to veto a final piece of legislation that is passed by the body, however I think it is a clear violation of [the] separation of powers when the executive branch intrudes into the legislative branch’s process…. This body is responsible for legislative action, and [if] the executive branch is allowed to interfere with that process, it could be argued that the executive branch controls two of the three branches of our government. Mr. Chairman, I believe that the mayor is out of order and does not have standing. However, for expedience sake, I will make a motion to override the mayoral veto of the previous motion provided that the record clearly reflects that I believe the mayoral veto is unlawful.

The municipal attorney, Dennis Wheeler, disagreed with the assembly counsel, Julia Tucker’s, assessment of the veto being unlawful. He emphasized his interpretation is that the mayor can indeed veto a motion or other action.
Patrick Flynn pointed out relevant municipal code:

  • Under 5.02.(b): “The mayor may participate in all assembly meetings to the same extent as an assemblyman, but may not vote.”
  • Under 5.02.(c): “The mayor has line item veto power,” but as Flynn articulated, line item vetoes are limited to striking or reducing “items in a budget or appropriation measure,” not increasing funds. With this unlawful veto of a motion, he sought to increase funding to the multi-use sports facility.

In fairness to the mayor, he technically isn’t increasing or decreasing funds with the veto; he’s reallocating funds within the pot designated by the legislature. That could possibly be subject to line item veto. But he still doesn’t have a legal claim to intervene until the legislation is passed.
“If we let the executive branch take control of both branches of government,” Demboski said, “We don’t need to be here,” Honeman finished.
The body overrode the veto by a 10-1 vote, with Birch, alone, supporting the unlawful mayoral veto.
The measure ultimately passed 9-2, with Flynn and Demboski voting against it.
The final Tally:

  • $4.2 million to Sullivan.
  • $4.4 for multi-use facility.
  • $1.1 million for Ben Boeke Ice Arena upgrades and renovations.
  • $520,000 for Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena improvements and upgrades.

I’ll finish this segment by mentioning that this unlawful mayoral veto happened on the same day that the assembly awarded $30,000 of taxpayer money to pay for independent counsel in a lawsuit, brought by Mayor Sullivan against the assembly, regarding the last unlawful mayoral veto.
At what point do we get outraged?
One the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a hundred page rewrite of election law.
The election commission has been hard at work on a rewrite of Title 28, dealing with how Anchorage conducts elections. Because, well, we’ve had some issues.
Unfortunately, it seems that the legislation has some issues too. Adam Trombley, the chair of the elections committee, agreed to continue the hearing to the first meeting in January, after holding a work session on the changes. It’s a good plan.
Ending on a brighter note.
The final opiner of the evening, during the audience participation segment at the tail end of the meeting, changed the tone entirely. An older gentleman, who looked very relaxed under his black ball cap, took his time wandering down to the lectern before speaking.
“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, let’s change the conversation a little bit. I’d like to wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas, a happy new year, and let’s hope for a little more civility next year. And I raise to you, Christmas Eve, two fingers of bourbon, and wish you all a very merry Christmas.”
Cheers, sir.
And the same to you. Each and every one.


  1. Gotta love the assembly for Anchorage sometimes and man sometimes this is why I hate to be a citizen under such a confused and random municipality.

  2. The assembly having the power to change the election date is insane b/c well lets see………………who wouldn’t put it pass the assembly to keep “extending” their terms of office. Basically more or less they could ensure that ONLY a select few could actually get a chance to serve on the assembly.

  3. So………………..is the Anchorage or Alaska Tennis Association putting up any funds to help to add indoor tennis courts or is this just going to be the tax payers footing the bill? Also why not improve some of our aging parks instead of building “new” facilities?

  4. Yep………………there we go again Mayor Sullivan I think just likes to put himself in positions that could A) be controversial or B) seen as an abuse of power. The ordinances in regards to the Mayors role in the assembly seem to contradict each other, or is that just me reading into it too far?

  5. AAwwarghlbrb! You can’t have elected offices deciding of their own volition to extend their own term of office. But up for the voters to decide–hell, I’ll vote for moving everything to November, sure–but no, no, ten million times no, does the assembly get to decide that for themselves.

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