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Court denies Anchorage group’s request to stop future Assembly closures of in-person testimony

(KTUU)
Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 4:42 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An Anchorage Superior Court judge has denied a motion by Alaskans for Open Meetings, Inc. and Michele Deering to suspend Anchorage Assembly ordinance 2020-66 and prevent the future closure of in-person public testimony.

While the court will set a hearing to further address the issues of the case, the immediate request for an injunctive relief, which would bar the Assembly from closing in-person testimony in the future, was denied on Friday.

In an order from Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir, the judge writes that the court, “believes a blanket restriction of this nature would be overbroad and ill-conceived.”

AO 2020-66 gave the municipality the authority to purchase four buildings with the intention of expanding homeless and addiction treatment services. While the Anchorage Assembly decided on the ordinance, in-person public testimony was limited, instead, they relied on phone and written testimony, livestreaming and telecasting. The decision was made during Anchorage’s “reset” phase after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued Emergency Order 15, which limited indoor gathering sizes during the pandemic.

During that time period, the Assembly passed AO 2020-66 along with legislation relating to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act fund allocations, contracts and licenses. Alaskans for Open Meetings argued the Anchorage Assembly, along with Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and now Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson imposed restrictions that fell outside of Alaska law on open meetings.

An injunction would have negative consequences for the municipality, representatives for the Municipality of Anchorage argued, as a court injunction could result in the revocation of 36 cannabis licenses and six liquor licenses, reverse funding of $12 million in grants and $93 million in contracts, reverse coronavirus response funds and invalidate the union contract extension for certain city employees including firefighters, the order states.

“Overall, the Court is not yet convinced that an ‘open meeting’ by definition requires participants, in effect, to occupy the same physical space,” the order states.

A hearing date for additional proceedings has yet to be set.

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