Anchorage Assembly votes to extend emergency declaration

Emergency powers, COVID-19 mitigation at center of assembly discussion
A microphone at a meeting of the Anchorage Assembly.
A microphone at a meeting of the Anchorage Assembly.(KTUU photo)
Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 10:09 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 10:59 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Following Monday’s announcement of a twentieth emergency order for the Municipality of Anchorage, much of Tuesday’s regular Anchorage Assembly meeting centered on a resolution potentially extending the city’s emergency declaration. The Assembly ultimately voted 6-4 to extend the declaration through June 11.

“Extending the emergency declaration is a critical piece to our community’s recovery,” said Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in her opening statements, “not only from a public health perspective, but economically.”

Quinn-Davidson’s comments prompted immediate reaction and questions from members of the assembly.

In response to a question from Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar about how EO 20 could be rescinded or removed, Quinn-Davidson said that despite the order being the first to set a vaccination goal – of 70% – for the municipality, that rate would not have to be reached if other risk factors were reduced.

“What we wanted to do here is give the public confidence,” she said in part. “It would go away without any action on our part. But there are other ways that we could end that emergency order.”

Member Jamie Allard expressed concern about vaccinations being part of any order at all.

“You’re pushing a vaccine that has been deemed by the CDC that it needs to be paused,” she said, speaking specifically of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, the distribution for which was temporarily halted Tuesday after several women experienced symptoms that indicated a link between it and rare blood clots.

Quinn-Davidson cited increasing availability of two other vaccines in her response, saying that there is “plenty” of vaccine – produced instead by Pfizer and Moderna – and that people who want those should have “no issue” accessing them.

Allard then asked, “Have those been also not FDA approved?” to which Quinn-Davidson offered her a conversation with epidemiologists away from the assembly chambers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorizations for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Janssen vaccine, before its distribution was interrupted, was also being administered under the same clearance.

However, responses from the public during open testimony Tuesday were mixed: while vaccinations themselves were a focus, most who took issue with the emergency order or any extension of the mayor’s emergency powers were also fed up with a vaccine goal being part of an order for those within the municipality.

This triggered further concern from the public over the possibility that emergency powers might be extended through the emergency declaration.

“I’m not against vaccines,” said Louis Imbriani. “I’m not against masks. But I am against those who try to impose their wills on others, and continually try to restrict freedoms of choice.”

Another testifier said they “completely oppose” the emergency order as a whole.

“It’s crazy; it’s madness,” he said, noting his wife and kids have recently suffered from depression. “I don’t know what the agenda is with everybody wearing masks – I know you’re trying to save lives – but to save a few and suppress the rest is crazy to me.”

Many others who spoke at the meeting were in favor of either the emergency order, the extension of the emergency declaration, or both.

“The mask mandate helps to keep them safe, when and until vaccination is an option to them,” said Alyssa Rodrigues, noting the challenges of getting foster kids in particular vaccinated. “The other thing I wanted to speak to is economic development ... Economic activity declined; people lost confidence in public spaces. So I would urge you to maintain the mask mandate, to maintain our confidence in public spaces, until we’ve really gotten a handle on COVID-19 and have really and truly kind of seen it until the end.”

Lindsey Hajduk said she, too, wanted to see an extension of the emergency declaration.

“It’s essential for us to continue to slow the spread of COVID cases,” she said. “Face masks, social distancing in public and in businesses, and vaccinations are the key to do that. I don’t want to see our community have to do another shut down or hunker down and these are the ways we can do that.”

Still, accusations of “tyranny” and “oppression” on the part of the assembly ran rampant throughout public testimony, as others sounded off on the possibility of an extension of the mayor’s emergency powers and capabilities through the emergency declaration.

“It’s time to end this now,” said Brian Johnson. “You need to listen to the people that are here speaking, and the people that voted you to do your jobs. The oppression needs to stop and needs to stop now.”

In their closing arguments, assembly members pointed out both pros and cons of a potential extension to the emergency declaration.

“I hear the message from people who think we should retain (the emergency declaration),” said Vice Chair John Weddleton. “At my business, we have 100% masks. No mask, you don’t walk in. We do capacity restraints. And business is good. More customers say ‘thank you’ than complain about it.

“But I just don’t see that we are in a situation of an emergency,” he continued. “Last year, we didn’t know what was going on. It was awful, and we said that we can’t have it here. But what we’re looking at now is very, very different.”

Allard questioned the effectiveness of the order and why people actually want it in place.

“When you sit here and listen to people wanting to continue this emergency proclamation, you have to wonder why,” she said. “What is the reason behind it? Is it really because they’re looking out for the betterment of the community?”

Member Suzanne LaFrance said she fully believes in mask-wearing guidance and social distancing, but maintained she could not support the months-long extension of emergency status in Anchorage.

“Protecting the vulnerable is a role of government, but now vaccines are available, and we have succeeded in reducing the risks,” she said. “I don’t believe the present conditions meet the requirements for a state of emergency to continue... At this point, emergency powers are primarily needed for masking and distancing.

“It’s time for personal responsibility to play a bigger role,” LaFrance continued. “It frustrates me that the pandemic may be needlessly dragged out because some people who otherwise could won’t wear masks or practice distancing. I understand reasons against vaccinating, but get vaccinated when it’s safe for them.”

Assembly members Dunbar, Pete Petersen, Christopher Constant, Kameron Perez-Verdia and Meg Zaletel, as well as Acting Chair Felix Rivera, voted to pass the resolution, which extended the emergency declaration. Members LaFrance, Weddleton, Allard and Crystal Kennedy cast the four “no” votes.

The original resolution sought to extend the declaration through July 16, but an amendment was brought forward to shorten that time frame to June 11. That amendment passed 8-2, with only Rivera and Kennedy voting against it.

The Assembly also voted to extend Tuesday’s meeting to midnight. Among the other actions taken was an indefinite postponement of another resolution related to the mayor’s emergency powers, which would select which orders or regulations would be terminated. That postponement passed with a 9-1 vote.

The next regular meeting of the Anchorage Assembly will take place on April 27. The meeting will be preceded by a special meeting on April 20 to certify the Municipal Election results.

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional quotes, and the outcome of the Assembly’s vote on the resolution extending the mayor’s emergency powers.