Anchorage Redistricted with No Public Input
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.”
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 very conservative and tan-addicted Chris Birch…
…the moderate (ish) member (running at that time for a Republican seat on the State House) Dick Traini…
…and last but surely not least…
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.