Assemblyman Admits Back Room Shenanigans
Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting promised to be more interesting than usual, but no one was expecting the jaw-dropping admission of blatant politicking by a supporter of the Mayor on the Assembly, and that the peoples’ referendum to repeal a draconian labor ordinance was being set up as a casualty of electoral manipulation.
The Anchorage Assembly passed its anti-union, anti-public-employee Ordinance 37 back in March of 2013 despite hours and hours of testimony against it. In fact, Chair Ernie Hall even cut off testimony with many still waiting for an opportunity to speak.
That led to the filing of a petition to put the Repeal of Ordinance 37 up for a vote of the people. Mayor Sullivan attempted to stop signature collection on that petition through a lawsuit. He was unsuccessful.
Over 22,000 signatures were collected when only 7,000+ were required, and the Clerk certified the signatures as valid. So, per the Anchorage Charter, an election was to ensue within 75 days from when the signatures were submitted. Common wisdom dictated that the Assembly would schedule it in the next regular Municipal Election in April of 2014.
Once again, the Administration ignored the clear outpouring of public desire to vote on this issue, and filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court. (While the Court has agreed to expedite the case, we do not have a date yet).
In the interim, Mayor Sullivan’s minions on the Assembly are attempting to push off this vote as late as they possibly can. They filed an Ordinance to extend the election as late as 2015, in direct conflict with the one from the public-advocate minority on the Assembly which places the vote firmly during the April election.
Public testimony on these conflicting ordinances started Tuesday, and was continued to last night. The testimony was hard-hitting and brought up important facts: that a separate election was estimated to cost about $300,000.00 in taxpayer money (possibly up to $500,000.00 if done during the November State Election); that the petition which was signed by 22,000 people stated April 2014 as the date of the election, making voter intent clear; and that the history of Ordinance 37 shows a lack of transparency and public process – pushing off the election just continues that perception.
The most revealing testimony of the night was given by AFL-CIO President, Vince Beltrami, who explained why the Mayor’s loyalists might be playing these games with Anchorage voters:
Vince Beltrami: Thank you Mr. Chair. My name is Vince Beltrami and I have been an Anchorage resident for 25 years. I’d like to take my testimony in a little bit different direction than most because unless you follow politics every day, some may not understand the motivations that sometimes go into a proposed ordinance. And here’s how I see it.
This isn’t about a good public process. It’s plain and simple – it’s about elections, period. And I’d like to play this out in what seems to be a pretty viable scenario. So, if Mr. Trombley wins in April, the Mayor’s majority stays in place, Chairman Hall remains the Chair. If Mayor Sullivan wins the Lt. Governor race, then Mr. Hall probably becomes the interim Mayor. But Mayor Sullivan doesn’t want to have the referendum on the primary ballot with him, so the idea of putting the referendum on the state primary ballot in August got nixed pretty quickly. So, anyway, if Mr. Sullivan wins, and I have to tell you that’s pretty scary because to have him as the guy in charge of state elections after his handling of this goat rope gives me cause for great concern.
Mr. Hall would then get to run (for Mayor) as the incumbent, but he surely doesn’t want the AO-37 referendum on the ballot in April, 2015. And neither does Dan Coffey if he’s the guy, because everyone knows he’s knee-deep in these discussions and he despises those who represent working families. So, in what is unquestionably and obviously pure political motivation, the referendum gets pushed off to November with the state ballot, which the Clerk has already said is an absolutely ridiculous idea that will completely confuse and disenfranchise voters. But, if on the other hand, if Adam (Trombley) were to lose in April, and the majority shifts and then, oh my gosh, either Dick (Traini) or Paul (Honeman) or Elvi (Gray-Jackson) or Tim (Steele) or someone else becomes the Chair and then potentially the interim Mayor if “Mayor Dan” happens to win the Lt. Governor’s seat.
Now, the reasons for the shenanigans of messing with the date of the referendum become perfectly crystal clear. But you see, that in a nutshell is the problem. It seems to matter more about who wins than doing what’s right by the charter, and by the citizens of this city. It’s so disturbingly transparent, it surprises me at how brazen an effort it is to thwart the will of the citizens, and what I think is the intent of the charter.
This disregard for public process will be a ball and chain around the neck, and the futures of those who vote for doing anything other than putting it on the next available regular ballot as was certainly the original intent of those who drafted and approved the charter.
And for those who are actually fiscally hawkish, like Mr. Starr demonstrated himself to be last night, how can you justify an unnecessary and expensive election that would cost the citizens of Anchorage as much as a half million dollars, I’ve heard. It’s unconscionable. Do what the citizens of this Municipality deserve and expect. Support the version that puts this on the next regular Municipal election. Doing otherwise, to me, is a betrayal of your civic responsibility and a testament for those who face election next April that they are unwilling to stand by the votes they made on AO-37. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ernie Hall: Thank you.
Remember, I said that Beltrami initiated the most revealing testimony of the night? While Mr. Beltrami’s explanation was amazing and insightful, it was his own theory (albeit a good theory) on the reasons why the Assembly’s Team Sully were behaving this way.
The “reveal” came when Adam Trombley opened his mouth in direct response to Beltrami’s testimony:
Adam Trombley: I really appreciate that. I really do. That was probably one of the more honest things that I’ve heard all day long. So, I really do appreciate that.
When I heard this, my jaw dropped. You see, Adam Trombley is up for re-election in April of 2014. If the election of 2013, which happened right after Ordinance 37 was voted in, is any indication, Trombley has real reasons to be concerned about his re-election. In the 2013 Municipal Election, Ernie Hall came close to losing to a virtual unknown (Nick Moe) who had only been running for six weeks. In addition, the 2013 election almost completely cleansed the Anchorage School Board of candidates supported by the Mayor.
Vince Beltrami’s testimony was his theory explaining the actions of the Mayor’s Assembly loyalists. Adam Trombley’s response was admitting the truth of Beltrami’s assertions!
Here is the rest of the discussion where he once again thanks Vince for his honesty and for “dissecting it” the way he did:
Trombley: Without asking for your prediction for the South Anchorage race, when Mr. Birch is termed out, I am curious though, is it possible at all that there is any political motivation to have it on the April 14 ballot?
Beltrami: Political motivation? No, I think simply that that’s what anybody who signed that petition, and put their name on there – the 22,000 people – when they signed it, that was the expectation. And that when you look at the charter, it says 75 days between the next special election or the next regular election. I mean, that’s what a normal, and I think reasonable person would expect that that’s when the next election should be. To do anything beyond that seems to go to what Mr. Traini said last night which is “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Trombley: You know, I’ve got to tell you, where I really struggle in all of this is, I do, I read the charter, and it seems to me that the only true, really non-political action to take would be that 75 days. The charter is the one that lays that our for us. We don’t make that up. I really do appreciate your honesty, and for you dissecting that the way you did. Thank you.
With his comments, Assembly Member Adam Trombley sweeps away any doubt that he and his cohorts have been playing games with the Anchorage public purely for their own political gain – probably much to the chagrin of those cohorts. Perhaps that is part of the reason why, when Dick Traini presented a new Ordinance for consideration that would totally repeal AO 37 and make an election unnecessary, Assemblyman Bill Starr jumped on board as a co-sponsor with Traini and Paul Honeman. (It should be noted that Bill Starr is making a very public show of distancing himself from the Mayor, including a popcorn-worthy back-and-forth with Sullivan at the regular meeting on Tuesday. Do I see a hat sailing towards the mayoral candidacy ring?) The public testimony on THAT Ordinance is scheduled for October 22nd, along with the debate and decision on the fate of the referendum date.
What a quandary! Do they try and protect Trombley’s Assembly Seat AND appease the Mayor by voting to extend the Referendum beyond April, risking further public ire and giving their future adversaries more ammunition? Do they appease the public and let Trombley’s chips fall by voting to hold the Referendum in April 2014? Or do they help Trombley’s election but irritate Sullivan by squashing the Mayor’s Ordinance 37? Speaking of popcorn, October 22nd could be the most interesting and entertaining Assembly Meeting this year – and that’s saying something!