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December 22, 2014

Anchorage Redistricted with No Public Input

(Photo courtesy of Zach D Roberts)

It was a big night at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly Meeting. The Anchorage School District Budget was passed, as was both the Municipal Operating Budget and the Municipal Capital Budget.

However, I was there for the item that was slipped in towards the end. It was the first, last and only public meeting dedicated to Municipal Reapportionment…another word for Redistricting.

You may be surprised to hear that the Assembly has been working on Reapportionment at all. You are not alone.

If you remember the gerrymandering farce known as the State Redistricting process, the public meetings went on for months before anything was sent to the Department of Justice for approval. (Alaska and the Southern States have a history of voter disenfranchisement, so we fall under The Voting Rights Act and the Feds must first approve any changes to our voting law.)

However, the Anchorage Assembly Chair managed to sidestep that pesky public input problem. From the ADN’s Rosemary Shinohara:

“The consultant, E-Terra LLC, developed the alternatives at the direction of a three-member Assembly committee that has been meeting quietly since July.

“Since there were only three Assembly members participating, the committee was not required under city law to meet in public or give public notice — and it didn’t. City law mandates that if four or more Assembly members get together, it’s a public meeting.”

Dennis Wheeler

Of course, THAT was the interpretation of Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler, who has the credibility of…well…a lawyer with a history of lying. (Let’s just say there are other, more knowledgeable attorneys who completely disagree.)

So, your next question might be, which illustrious Assembly Members made the cut onto this clandestine committee?

The John Boehner of Anchorage

The very conservative and tan-addicted Chris Birch…

Dick Traini

…the moderate (ish) member (running at that time for a Republican seat on the State House) Dick Traini…

…and last but surely not least…

Ernie Hall

Mayor Sullivan’s pocket Assembly Chair, Ernie Hall. Yup, he appointed himself.

My, such balance and diversity…three mostly-conservative white guys!

Oh, and did I mention that both owners of E-Terra, LLC, the hired consultants who drew the maps, have been at some time officers in the Alaska Republican Party?

So, when Chris Birch repeated several times during the meeting that this process has been “going on since July,” it was completely without public input. As a matter of fact, the public only found out about this when several members of the media covered the Friday (October 26th) Work Session where the already-completed maps were unveiled…to the rest of the surprised Anchorage Assembly Members.

Yes, amazingly, they never gave the rest of the Assembly an opportunity to provide input either

However, the worst aspect is clearly that the public has had zero opportunity to participate. Testimony at the public hearing was light due to the lack of notice but it packed a punch. It came from some rightly-angry amd frustrated leaders of several Anchorage Community Councils. All who testified understood that their words would be ignored when, immediately following the testimony, Chris Burch nominated the first map for a vote and it eventually passed.

That was the final slap-in-the-face to the people of Anchorage. You could almost feel the sting.

The best overall description of frustration and anger over the [lack of] process was expressed by Assembly Member Patrick Flynn. He is the representative in the single-member Downtown District whose single-member status will not change under this map. (The single-member status is “supposed” to shift from district-to-district. It isn’t happening so far.)

Mr. Flynn articulated the feelings of many in the room during an excellent rebuke to the Reapportionment Committee and the Assembly as a whole:

“I came in here tonight kind of knowing I was getting rolled on this one and I have to tell you it doesn’t feel very good. It doesn’t feel very good because I think I demonstrated at the work session that I understood the law better than the members of the Committee that met, I understood the history better than the members of the Committee that met, and I sure as hell understood the process better than the Committee because they never even had a public meeting. That really bothers me. You heard about it from the people who came to testify tonight. We could have done a better job at this. We could have looked at other single-member district options like Turnagain Arm, or Oceanview. But, for whatever reason, I was sealed out of this, so we have what we have. It may be legal Mr. Chairman, but it’s not right.”

No, it isn’t right and if you ask almost anyone who actually understands the process, it is also quite possibly not legal.

— According to the State of Alaska Open Meetings Act, the legality of this “process” is very much in question.

— According to the 2002 Alaska Supreme Court Redistricting decision, the map voted in by the Assembly is legally very much in question.

I can only hope that Community Councils and other concerned citizens can band together. If we don’t challenge this blatant nose-thumbing at the Alaska Constitution, I can’t imagine that this Administration or this Assembbly majority will bother to follow it ever again.

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9 Responses to “Anchorage Redistricted with No Public Input”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    Did any of the members of this secret cabal ever hear or read the word “transparency?” It’s a great concept, especially when applied to government.

  2. windpond says:

    The fact that, “(Alaska and the Southern States have a history of voter disenfranchisement, so we fall under The Voting Rights Act and the Feds must first approve any changes to our voting law.)” is very revealing of what goes on in this state and is very embarrassing.

  3. UgaVic says:

    Can the State AG Office be contacted and some type of a protest be filed? Can’t this be done by even one citizen, let alone the community groups?

    There has to be steps that can be taken before it goes to a filing a lawsuit. This is just plain wrong.

    No wonder all our little governments in the villages feel they can just walk all over both people and businesses when they see crap like this.

  4. John says:

    Has anyone submitted a public records request for:

    all e-mails sent to or from any Assembly Member on any e-mail account they use to conduct assembly business that contains the words “district” “re-district” “re-districting” “redistricting” “voting rights” “E-Terra” “eterra” or “Chris Birch is an embarrassment”

    With the possible exception of the last phrase, this should limit the number of e-mails to an affordable amount. The search should be easy to conduct and it might show whether a fourth member was involved in the secret meetings.

    Frankly, it would be fun if people just randomly requested emails to or from any one of the Assembly Members on a particular random day. Just to keep them guessing.

  5. thatcrowwoman says:

    It’s not just Alaska; we’ve all got our share of sneaks, cheats, liars, and ethically-challenged “leaders.”
    The election is over but the work goes on.

    Shame on those who hate our freedoms,
    who would deny liberty and justice for all.

    We don’t stand down and shut up; we push back.
    We watch
    we listen
    we speak up
    we think
    we talk to our friends and neighbors, (especially the attorneys, eh?)
    to our news editors and legislators
    and to the folks spouting/perpetrating the sneaky stuff themselves.

    Thank you, Linda, for shining the light on this.
    May it inspire us all to be more attentive in our own communities,
    to Occupy our Life, our Liberty, and our Pursuit of Happiness.

    *imagining myself with arms like our First Lady’s, the better to push back with, my dears*
    thatcrowwoman

  6. GoI3ig says:

    Why I am no longer surprised by any of this? It appears to be the same page from the GOP playbook that was used at the state level. Alaska has become an embarrassment.

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  1. […] bungled reapportionment process toward which my antipathy knows few bounds (examples here and here).  To summarize, three members met behind closed doors for months, hired a partisan demographic […]

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