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September 20, 2021

City Attorney Lies to Assembly Regarding Sidewalk Ordinance (Update – Repeal)

Mayor Dan Sullivan is no stranger to controversy. Whether it’s creating a paid position for his personal “party planner,” cashing an illegitimate $193,000 check for a non-existent life insurance policy, pink slipping employees Christmas week, collecting $12,000 for being “mayor elect” before he actually started doing his job,  vetoing an ordinance that would allow the LGBT community equal rights in housing and employment, disbanding vital firefighting services and axing public safety positions… I could go on.

One controversy that’s been brewing since last summer has involved an ordinance that Mayor Sullivan has ushered through the Assembly. This particular ordinance is aimed at a man named Johnathan Martin who has decided to protest the Mayor’s egregious attitude toward the homeless by camping out in front of City Hall. Sullivan was not pleased by the fact that sitting on the sidewalk was, in fact, legal.  Later Sullivan said he might consider meeting with Martin if he cleaned up and made himself presentable for an audience with His Excellency – The Mayor.

The new law would make it illegal to sit or recline on sidewalks in downtown Anchorage from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, and until 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, with exceptions for medical emergencies, and events like parades that have a permit. Violators could be fined up to $100.

When the sidewalk ordinance came before the Anchorage Assembly, there was more than one Assembly member on the fence. Was it right to create an ordinance which was basically the Mayor’s way of dealing with one man whom he considered a nuisance? Did it infringe on first amendment rights? How would this affect the Occupy Anchorage protesters who were in Town Square Park right down the street from City Hall? Law enforcement didn’t seem to think the ordinance was necessary at all.  What about the cost of enforcement of the ordinance, and what did that say about the Mayor’s supposed desire to shrink city government? And then, of course, there was always the possibility that the ordinance would not stand up to a legal challenge. That would mean bad PR, embarrassment, and big legal fees. Nobody wants that.

These were all valid points to consider, and the Assembly had been thinking about them since the first draft of the ordinance came their way during the summer.

As last Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, there was public testimony (all of it negative) regarding the ordinance and a discussion before the vote. During this debate, Assemblyman Dick Traini and the City Attorney Dennis Wheeler had the following exchange (3:59:30):

[Emphasis added]

Traini: Dennis, since this will end up probably in the court system if it’s approved, if the ACLU takes it to court, is it defensible from your point of view?

Wheeler: This ordinance was run by the ACLU.

Traini: They haven’t had any problems with it?

Wheeler: They do not have any problems with it and, uh, that’s primarily because we crafted it after a law that was already challenged in court and upheld.

Traini: Because I’m wondering why ACLU’s not here. Normally when something like this comes forward if they have a problem they’re here testifying so I appreciate that information. Thank you.

Well. If the ACLU, legal champions of the Constitution and civil liberties, had looked over the ordinance and found it to be sound, and had no objections to it, then surely it stood on firm legal ground. There really is no greater litmus test than that. The seal of approval from the ACLU means a lot, and the Assembly took it to heart. There were still four Assembly members who objected to the ordinance, but it passed in a 7-4 vote, including the two members who were most unsure – Dick Traini, and Jennifer Johnston.

So, there it was. Locked up, air-tight, buttoned down, and done. Nothing more to discuss. The ordinance would go into effect on December 22 with little objection, and the Mayor would count it as a victory.

Only one problem.

Mr. Wheeler never “ran the ordinance by the ACLU” at all. The ACLU never gave an opinion on it. And the Assembly voted on the ordinance using false information because they actually assumed that the City Attorney had been telling the truth. Surprise!

(photo of Dennis Wheeler by henkimaa)

What followed the Assembly meeting, days later, was a surreal and entertaining confession of sorts. Behold the inept glory of Dennis Wheeler trying to weasel out of this one in a mea culpa email  sent on Tuesday to the members of the Assembly, and others.

Assembly members – at the last Assembly meeting, in an exchange with Assembly member Traini, I said the safe sidewalk ordinance had been “run by” the ACLU and the ACLU had no objections. This was a poor choice of words. I knew the ACLU had been reviewing the original ordinance since its introduction in July. I believed the ACLU was also aware of the revised version. I also thought at least one assembly member had told me they had shared the ordinance with the ACLU.

In any event, my office did not directly send a copy of the ordinance to the ACLU. My poor choice of words would certainly give the impression that my office had sent the ordinance directly to the ACLU.

It is true the ACLU did not send us any comments, as they have in the past on other ordinances. It is also appears the ACLU did not speak to either version of the ordinance during the public hearings.

I understand from recent news stories that the ACLU is concerned about the ordinance. It has been suggested the concern has to do with the hours specified in the ordinance, but I do not know the specifics.

That’s right folks. Dennis Wheeler said something that was patently untrue, which (in Mayor Sullivan’s kingdom) becomes “a poor choice of words.” He just could have sworn that somebody on the Assembly told him he/she had shared the ordinance with the ACLU at some point… Who was that again?  Oh… the name escapes him.  That poor choice of words surely might have led some people to think that he meant the exact opposite of the actual truth.  And that was really his bad.  But keep in mind that the ACLU didn’t actually technically have an objection to the ordinance that he thought they might have seen, but actually didn’t.  And… um… he guesses now they may have some kind of problem with it after all, but hasn’t really availed himself of the specifics of what their specific objections are.

Perhaps Mr. Wheeler is waiting for some unnamed Assembly Member(s) to mention to him in passing (he thinks) something about what the ACLU might dislike. But, hey. We don’t really know for sure.

Fortunately for us, the attorneys at the ACLU seem to be a little bit more on the ball than Mr. Wheeler.  They apparently got wind of their supposed tacit endorsement of the ordinance, and had a couple questions via email.

Mr. Wheeler ­

I was reviewing the commentary from the most recent Assembly session. Among
your testimony was a statement that the ACLU had said they had no problems
with the sidewalk sitting and panhandling ordinance. Can you clarify the
basis for that comment? I do not recall making such a statement and do not
find any record in my correspondence of Mr. Mittman or myself making such a
comment, nor do I believe that such a statement would be accurate.

Thank you,
Thomas Stenson
Attorney
ACLU of Alaska Foundation

Wow. Look who’s all fancy and keeps “records of correspondence” and stuff, instead of relying on vague and distant memories that they just could have sworn had actually happened. (We give a low whistle indicating we are impressed with the ACLU’s clerical acumen).

After another email, gently prodding Mr. Wheeler, this was the response from the hapless, sweaty Municipal Attorney. Ready?  The bold passages were highlighted by me, just because I like them and they make me laugh.

Tom ­ I’ve reviewed what I can here. It appears my words were poorly chosen.
While I understood the ACLU had said to the media that it was reviewing the
original ordinance, I should not have said the ordinance was “run by” the ACLU
as this office had not specifically sent the AO to the ACLU. In the past, we
have received comments from the ACLU and the ACLU has attended the public
hearings, without prompting from us. In at least one instance, it was my
understanding the ACLU did not have a “facial” objection, but might have an
“as applied” objection, depending on how the Municipality enforced the
ordinance. Somehow, I came to think that was in reference to this issue,
but I cannot confirm such is the case or what the source of that information
might have been; it may have arisen from the previous version from July or
with the taxicab ordinance. With respect to this ordinance, I don’t think the
ACLU offered written or verbal comments to the Municipality; at least not with
this office. In total, it would have been more accurate to say that I
understood the ACLU is aware of the ordinance and that, to the best of my
knowledge, the ACLU has not commented to the Municipality. I’ve clarified
this with the Mayor and the Assembly.

Here’s where I like to imagine Tom Stenson sitting at his computer, reading and rereading this email. His mouth hangs open slightly. Perhaps he blinks a few times before reading it again. He takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. He’s not sure whether to laugh, and then decides that yes, he will. Maybe he even calls over another attorney, or someone working in the office and says something like, “Hey… Get a load of this.”

He manages, though, to keep it together and asks the straight question:

Could you please forward to me any communications you had with the Mayor and the Assembly? Thank you.

Wheeler responds breathlessly:

You want me to forward to you any attorney-client privileged communications?

Stenson, after a monumental coffee-spit, pens the best response ever. (Parenthetical comment is mine)

You said you’ve clarified it with the Mayor and the Assembly. I would like to
see how the matter has been clarified and make my own determination.
Respectfully, when a government agent takes it upon himself to declare in
testimony at a public meeting what this organization does and does not
support, I take a serious interest in making sure that the record is perfectly
clear.

I don’t understand how your communication would be privileged. I can’t imagine
how a statement indicating your own error to the Assembly would constitute
“legal advice.” The simple fact that you are an attorney does not make your
every statement privileged. (<—— The Money Line)

If you choose not to relay the correspondence, I will be compelled to correct
the record myself.

Tom

And the final response from Wheeler. Let the backpedaling begin!

Tom- typically records requests are scoped so we know how to respond. Your
request is generally over-broad (“any communication”). That was the point of
my question – to get you to scope your request. It doesn’t appear that you
understood the question. In any event, I can forward to you the email I sent
to the Clerk’s Office. My understanding from the Municipal Clerk is that she
did forward it to Assembly members. If your request is for more than the
single email, you’ll need to let me know. The email should appear on your
screen shortly.

I hope you have appreciated this exchange as much as I did. At its best, it is bumbling ineptitude. At its worst, it is blatant manipulation of the public process for political gain, followed by skullduggery and coverup. But whichever it is, there still remains this fact: Members of the Anchorage Assembly placed their votes on this controversial and highly publicized issue, and gave an ostensible victory to the Mayor based upon blatantly false information that was revealed to be false after the fact. So, now what? Let’s hope that one of the distinguished members of the Assembly who is not in the pocket of the Mayor will step forward and demand that this vote be rescinded.

In the meantime, a demonstration is planned on December 22, the day the new law goes into effect. “Our idea is to sit on the sidewalk during the solstice,” says Bryan DeHusson of Occupy Anchorage. “So that at midnight, when the law goes into effect, we have as many people as we can sitting outside of City Hall, in single file, so we’re not actually blocking pedestrian traffic.”

UPDATE:  Linda Kellen Biegel spoke with Assemblyman Dick Traini this afternoon. When asked what his response was to Wheeler’s emails he responded that he had already drafted a repeal of the ordinance, which should be introduced at the Assembly meeting this coming Tuesday at 5pm at the Loussac Library.  Co-sponsors of the repeal are Assembly members Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Paul Honeman who will be opposing Mayor Sullivan when he is up for re-election this spring.

Comments

comments

Comments
60 Responses to “City Attorney Lies to Assembly Regarding Sidewalk Ordinance (Update – Repeal)”
  1. AK Raven says:

    Come on ADN, you so-called liberal mouthpiece! Why isn’t there a peep about this scandal in Sunday’s paper???

  2. rugger9 says:

    I think the ACLU will sue, the article points out why: their ostensible opinion was used as a bargaining chip in a council meeting, and was identified as a deciding factor for fence-sitters. They may wait for the rescinding motion to be completed, but I can’t see how the ACLU can be taken seriously in the future if they allow their credibility to be libeled in this way. They should sue Wheeler and Sullivan in particular.

  3. Bucsfan says:

    Wow, really? I think back years ago to a Steve Martin gag when he said no matter what you get caught doing, just say two words “I forgot”. Why haven’t you paid your taxes for ten years? I forgot. Why did you lie to the assembly about getting feedback from the ACLU when you actually didn’t? I forgot. And lets call a lie a lie like Laurence O’Donnell does. He didn’t misspeak, or misremember (right, Roger Clemens) or get confused, or what ever else spin politicians use when they get caught. HE LIED! Heck, when they were growing up, my kids came up with better excuses than this guy. And does anyone know his backround, where he got his law degree from, what positions he held before become city attorney? Just curious to see what his history was.

  4. Polarbear says:

    Is this an episode from Harry’s Law ?

  5. Man_from_Unk says:

    Is this lawyer Wheeler from Wasilla?

  6. merrycricket says:

    “The simple fact that you are an attorney does not make your every statement privileged.”
    Beautiful, just beautiful.

  7. WakeUpAmerica says:

    Sounds like he has all the skills to be an AK state AG.

  8. Ice Gal says:

    Since when did the facts matter to a t bagger?
    Lets just hope that this is the final nail in the coffin of mayor son of fink.

  9. Zyxomma says:

    The ACLU should sue for libel.

  10. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I came across this the other day – I post it here for ease of readership to get the context I am sure minute on google will find the source/s.

    Dr. George Grant
    New College Franklin

    Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ-to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

    But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice.

    It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.

    It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.

    It is dominion we are after.

    World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.

    If Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, as the Bible says, and if our commission is to bring the land into subjection to His Lordship, as the Bible says, then all our activities, all our witnessing, all our preaching, all our craftsmanship, all our stewardship, and all our political action will aim at nothing short of that sacred purpose.

    Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land – of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations.

    That last paragraph says it all. Does everyone here realize what that means? Do you see that word constitutions? Legislation? It claims a free-pass. The end justifies the means, no matter what that means is. Perjury? Not a problem, perjury laws were written by legislatures, they don’t count. Murder? Not a problem, vengence is mine, because I was just following orders from the voice in my head.

    I hope my html tags worked if not that whole quote was supposed to be in italics.

    • Kath the Scrappy says:

      I knew those folks were scarey, but this is so like the Taliban it’s freaking scarey!!

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

        I don’t find it particularly frightening, but I do have to say that I am seriously dismayed that people seem not to realise the seriousness of the threat posed by this “movement”. I would think the frank pronouncement of their intended goals would be evidence enough to conviince any informed person that any allegiance to such cults is a disqualifier for public office.

        But then that was the great success of Palin in her quest for more influence and power, she lied about her intentions. She is still lying. We see examples in other states of how this works, lie about your intentions to get elected, with the help of course of some big money about which you also lie, then once in office, work an agenda that does everything possible to disenfranchise anyone who might disagree with you, supress their vote and hand the prizes your backers coveted to them with scorn for the perception of corruption. This kind of behavior is the direct result of allowing crimes to go unpunished. Justice becomes a travesty.

        It is well to point out the local corruption that exists in Alaska, it is a microcosm.

        But bear that in mind, what you experience there locally is just the faintly sickening scent of decay that seeps from the bloated corpse of self-government.

    • juneaudream says:

      Mmmhum..been listening to that religious drivel..from one third of our extended cousins. Scary. Thinking back..one can see where one woman in the 3rd generation back..caused this whole side of the family group..to desend into fearbased life style..because a major boo..she.. committed. Decoding them..is good for..learning how to help deal with them..now..and in future.

      • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

        I can’t quite follow what you are trying to say here. I guess it doesn’t really matter because I will queue off your similar use of the word scary.

        Part of the strategy of lying and openly infringing on rights and invoking violence etc. etc. is to intimidate people. This is a tried and true approach and always works, for a while. How long depends upon the history of the people concerned and the overall circumstances.

        History shows, however, that there are limits past which even the most docile of pluralities cannot be compelled.

        Without wishing to offend those here who are religious in one way or another, I must observe that it is upon those of you who are rational, responsible and good citizens to condemn the deception and duplicity of those whose motives are personal wealth, aggrandizement and power who hide behind a facade of religion. The staves of their shield from criticism are the canards of having respect for belief. For faith. All religions argue that faith in any other religions is faith in a false god. All of them may be wrong, one of them may be right, but all of them cannot be right. Is that any way to run a world?

  11. Library Lady says:

    OK… that was just flat out hysterical! The ACLU is getting a holiday donation from me based solely on Mr. Stenson’s responses to this situation. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as watching a grown up professional like Stenson deal with a git like Wheeler. Beautiful.

  12. fishingmamma says:

    Someone working in the Sullivan administration lied?

    I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you……

  13. Moose Pucky says:

    This is so Alaskan…in a political sense…business as usual.

  14. Mike J. says:

    Thinking 98.9% of regular folks have no intention of sitting or blocking sidewalks, just want to complain. Same folks that will again complain next time they are blocked on the sidewalk, cornered by aggressive panhandlers, etc. Guess new thing is that as long as there are thrift stores and Army & Navy stores, everyone’s a Vet. But, GLBT already covered under present law, and to make a show with a special ordinance doesn’t make everything magically go away.

  15. zyggy says:

    I’m so glad Mister Pants on Fire was called out on his lies. Will the council have to take a revote since the info he provided was not truthful? Or does the truth not matter to the council? Methinks he needs to stay away from Sully’s bar.

  16. Note the update above — new opportunity to testify coming up!

  17. jimzmum says:

    Oopsie? I swear, I about harrumphed myself into the vapors reading this. This poor idiot needs a keeper.

  18. ethyl says:

    Doesn’t the assembly have a lawyer? Why would they take the city’s word over their own legal beagle?

  19. TSM says:

    “How in the heck did the city attorney pass his bar exam?”

    I believe Ted Strickland can answer that question for you:

    • TSM says:

      Sorry, hit the wrong key.

      I believe Ted Strickland can answer that question for you:

      “sure I’m a lawyer but that’s only becaus I took the bar exam in Alaska and they only have like four laws and most of them are when you can and cannot kill… seals.”

  20. tisalaska says:

    Same problem in the Mat Su borough. The dictatorship of the mayor and the veto proof good old boy assembly he has managed to get seated are running through the halls with their cowboy politics , veiled threats and back door politics before they burn the house down. Its a total get on board or we will find a reason to make you gone attitude. Pitiful.

  21. Wallflower says:

    Off-topic, but does the law specify that one cannot sit or relcine on the actual pavement? because while this issue is getting ironed out, I vote for buying mr Martin a lawn chair!

  22. Terise says:

    So has Dick Traini responded to this? He was the Assembly person to bring the ACLU up and I wonder if the truth might have changed his vote. He is my Assembly person and while he is not progressive, he is usually reasonable.

    I would love to hear his take on Mr. Wheeler…ummm…clarification. Any chance the ordinance can be “recalled” or put to another vote because Mr. Wheeler is “factually challenged?”

  23. Writing from Alaska says:

    ….. :O that is me with my mouth hanging open.

    How does someone that obtuse end up as a city attorney?

    “Could you please forward to me any communications you had with the Mayor and the Assembly? Thank you.”

    Not knowing that this question is a part of a conversation which obviously refers to the email he had just mentioned and nothing more is true idiocy.

    Is this the same guy that said the city was obligated to pay the Mayor for his dad’s ‘life insurance’ policy with the city?

  24. Stefani says:

    As a new resident of Georgia (USA) and an avid reader of local papers, I have only recently become aware of the “Good Ol Boy” mentality that ruins everything it touches. Good to see it is not only a local problem.

  25. Elsie says:

    Lord Gawd Honey, what a bunch of maroons. You’d think that somehow Wheeler/Weasel/His Turdliness woulda figured out that, eventually, his lies would come home to roost. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be so stooopid as to think the American Civil Liberties Union would miss this and/or consider even for a moment in letting it pass as an indication that the ACLU actually supports this ridiculous new ordinance.

    Maroons.
    The whole lot of them.

  26. mike from iowa says:

    This “soap opera” needs a formal name. How about it”Pups”?

  27. luckycharms says:

    Sully likes the incompetents. He’s got Bill Sheffield “managing” the port debacle, and Dennis Wheeler making a mockery of the Anchorage Assembly. But I’m sure the party planner was very skilled at her craft… so there’s that.

  28. hedgewytch says:

    Yesterday I was reading Wickersham’s Conscience’s blog where he was pointing out the fact that the U.S. just might have too many lawyers, and many “lawyers” don’t seem to understand their jobs. How in the heck did the city attorney pass his bar exam?

    • mike from iowa says:

      He learned to tip a few at Sully’s tavern. That used to be all the bar exam we had in Cherokee,Iowa at one time.Amazing that most of us passed with flying colors-the color of greenbacks flying into the cash register.

  29. lisa says:

    Wow. This guy is a weasel. Shameful. He should be fired.

    • Man_from_Unk says:

      Alaska has an overflow of weasels working for sharks such as his man Wheeler. Good luck on The Solstice Day City Hall Sit-In. I hope your standing line covers blocks and blocks.

  30. scout says:

    City Attorney Dennis Wheeler lies to the Assembly. Bucking for a promotion to State AG?
    Sit on it, Mr. Forked-Tongue Wheeler.

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  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] that was actually a “poor choice of words.” What he meant to say was that he’d never run it by the ACLU, and they had no problems with it because they never actually saw it. But Wheeler was pretty sure […]



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