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Anchorage Assembly considers altering the process of implementing mask mandates; Resolution against member Jamie Allard postponed indefinitely

Several other resolutions and ordinances were taken up as a crowd attended the regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night
An image from the Anchorage Assembly's regular meeting on Feb. 9, 2021.
An image from the Anchorage Assembly's regular meeting on Feb. 9, 2021.(Jeremy Kashatok / KTUU)
Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 7:23 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Anchorage Assembly, which featured a range of subjects, was largely centered on two controversial topics:

The meeting attracted a crowd well before it began, with a line forming outside ahead of several dozen people being later let into the Assembly Chambers. Ardent public testimony, aimed at a variety of Assembly considerations, started things off.

Among the first few public testimonials were comments centered on Allard’s recent commentary, beginning but not ending early on in the meeting.

“It is deeply offensive to those of us, like me, whose relatives survived or did not survive the Holocaust,” said one public testifier, “and the many members of our diverse community who would’ve been targeted for extermination by the Third Reich. Speaking out against white supremacy should not be and is not a conservative or liberal issue.”

Other speakers came out specifically in defense of Allard, who represents Eagle River.

“Jamie is not a Nazi sympathizer,” said one woman who spoke early on in the meeting. “She is simply speaking freedom of speech. And in fact, I Googled, ‘Anchorage Fuhrer phone.’ There are a lot of people in this town with the last name Fuhrer. Should we go hunt them down? Call them Nazi sympathizers?”

Discussion over Allard’s actions continued well into the gathering in the form of a resolution initially proposed by member Meg Zaletel, who referred to Allard’s behavior as “actions and conduct that breach the public trust.”

“And what shocked me,” Zaletel said, “is the total disregard for the responsibilities that we hold to the public around the use of social media.”

Fellow Assembly Members also expressed their disappointment, frustration, and even anger — whether over Allard’s comments or the backlash that followed — but all agreed in the form of a later vote that passing the resolution was not the best way to move forward.

“There is actually nothing of value in the ‘therefore’ portion [of the resolution], so the result of the AR actually accomplishes nothing,” said member Crystal Kennedy, who also represents Eagle River and spoke first on the resolution seeking action regarding the latter’s behavior. “All the negative impacts of this resolution would be to subject all members of this body by all members of this body to a never-ending political attack on each other for whatever appears to be the offense of the day.”

Kennedy, who said the entire situation “reflects poorly on the Assembly body as a whole,” noted other available means of member review and suggested that all members attend anger management counseling.

“Let’s postpone this resolution; let’s just chalk it up to COVID fatigue,” she said, “and let’s move on to more professional, productive conversations that will actually make us more worthy of our elected positions and certainly more worthy of the public trust.”

Allard also shared a prepared statement right before the vote, denying any racism or support of racism in general. She opened by saying she didn’t break any rules with her controversial social media post.

“I just wanted to say that there was no violation of the Municipal Code, ethics rules, or of law,” Allard said. “I have always and will continue to unequivocally denounce racism 100%.”

Allard added that she has “never defended racism in any form, regardless of what fantasy members of this body or the media attempt to portray,” and that the attention on her social media posts is simply an attempt to create a division for political gain.

“In the process,” she continued, “the Assembly is wasting time, municipal resources. I think there are tens of thousands of people in the community who would appreciate the body actually doing their job instead of pushing a hyper-political agenda and wasting taxpayer money.”

The resolution was ultimately and unanimously postponed indefinitely.

The Assembly’s proposal to move mask mandates from an emergency order format to Anchorage Municipal Code instead also drew much attention during public testimony early on in the meeting, before also being taken up later.

An hour-and-a-half-long public hearing allowing for comment on the municipality’s mask mandates and potential changes was already scheduled within the agenda Tuesday, though the Assembly ended up hearing even more throughout the night.

The Assembly had projected extensive public commentary before the public testimony session began, and said that testimony would either be continued to the next meeting in February or be moved to a later date.

An initial motion made by Zaletel shortly after 10 p.m., however, sought to move further testimony to April 13; an amendment by Kennedy asked that those in attendance be allowed to testify Tuesday night as is possible, while member Forrest Dunbar requested a continued meeting on Wednesday.

“I think it was a good faith effort to put this into code using an ordinance,” Dunbar said, “but I think it’s pretty clear that the folks that argued for doing that have now come around to the idea we shouldn’t do that at all.”

Along with Dunbar and Allard was Assembly Vice-Chair John Weddleton — one of the members who initially brought the idea of moving control of mask mandates from the mayor’s hands forward — also suggested the change from an emergency order to an Assembly ordinance might instead need to be dropped altogether. Zaletel then withdrew her motion to continue to April, and the public hearing went on throughout Tuesday evening up until around 11:30 p.m.

That’s when the decision on whether to continue the public testimony to Wednesday or the next regular meeting or to postpone the resolution indefinitely, was made. A motion to postpone indefinitely passed unanimously.

Regarding COVID-19 cases and response in the community, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson cited progress in the fight against coronavirus during her opening statements made via phone Tuesday evening.

Local cases continue to decrease, she said, creating a greater buffer and capacity at local hospitals. She also noted “hundreds” of available vaccination appointments — for anyone 65 and older, front line workers and long-term care facility staff and residents — will be open as early as this weekend.

“Alaska is leading the country in vaccination rates: 44,915 Anchorage residents have received at least one dose of vaccine,” she said. “This is critical to saving lives, but also saving and speeding up our economy.”

Quinn-Davidson also noted the recent barring of Canadian cruise ships to Alaska waters, as announced by the Canadian government earlier this month.

“We’re going to need independent travelers this summer,” she said. “In the meantime, more economic help is on the way.”

Millions of dollars in federal rental assistance will also be made available next week, Quinn-Davidson said. Residents may apply at alaskahousingrelief.org.

Among other resolutions, several related to permits and other operations related to hospitality were discussed. A resolution recognizing and celebrating February as Black History Month also passed unanimously on Tuesday evening, as did a resolution officially recognizing Feb. 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

The next regular meeting of the Anchorage Assembly will take place on Feb. 23, 2021. More information on that meeting — and others scheduled for the next 60 days — is available on the Municipality of Anchorage website.

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