Anchorage Assembly tackles confirmations, funding for shelter services

Anchorage City Hall.
Anchorage City Hall.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 10:33 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2021 at 2:30 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly passed three emergency ordinances at its Thursday night meeting aimed at continuing funding for emergency shelter services at the Sullivan Arena, among a packed agenda.

Thursday marked a continuation of the meeting that was ended early on Wednesday when members of the assembly and city administration came to a head on the issue of enforcing a COVID-19 mitigation plan within the chambers.

At the onset of Thursday’s meeting, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said assembly leadership had attempted to resolve the issue of enforcing the assembly’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the chambers with members of the administration, but that they were “unsuccessful.”

“However, we recognize the need to conduct the municipality’s business,” LaFrance said. “We are between a rock and hard place and the issue of assembly control over time, manner and place of its meeting will clearly not be resolved today.”

She suggested that those who had expected the mitigation plan to be enforced and people to be wearing masks at Thursday’s meeting could still participate by listening to or watching the meeting virtually.

“As the administration has indicated, it will continue to prevent the assembly from enacting the plan,” LaFrance said. “... Assembly leadership does not concede to the administration’s position, but recognizes that the dispute can’t be resolved tonight.”

So the assembly moved into some of its regular business on a lengthy agenda. That included confirmation of four administration appointees from Mayor Dave Bronson. The assembly voted to postpone the confirmations of Anchorage Health Director Joe Gerace and Daniel Zipay, who has been appointed to direct Solid Waste Services, until the Nov. 9 meeting. Members said this is due to the fact that they need additional information from an ethics board on both candidates as part of the confirmation process before they can make their decision.

Assembly members Jamie Allard and John Weddleton said they were against postponing Gerace’s confirmation, saying the city needs a permanent director of the health department sooner than later during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In speaking to the assembly, Gerace said his current work for the department would not change by becoming the director officially.

“I’m also not in agreement with the idea that pausing on this for a few weeks has any detrimental impact on his ability to do his job,” assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia said. “He’s doing his job well and I think that he can continue to do that job as an acting director until we get all the information and then can move forward with this appointment.”

The two confirmations were eventually postponed to the Nov. 9 assembly meeting. A vote to confirm James Winegarner as the director of real estate failed 5-5. Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant, who was participating virtually, said he was temporarily disconnected from the meeting and he did not cast his vote.

A reconsideration vote was still possible later in the meeting to give Constant another opportunity to vote, but that had not happened by the time of publication.

Through the consent agenda, the assembly did confirm Bradly Coy as the municipal traffic engineer.

The assembly also changed the order of the meeting to take up three emergency ordinances brought forward by the administration, all seeking additional funding for mass care shelter services. The first emergency ordinance, which the assembly passed, sought about $1.3 million for congregate emergency shelter services at the arena from Nov. 1 through the end of December. Zaletel explained this appropriation covers the contract for the shelter services provider, 99 Plus 1.

As they have in the past with funding ordinances having to do with the arena, members of the assembly disagreed about which source the funding should come from. As submitted, the emergency ordinances all set the funds to be taken from the Areawide General Capital Improvement Projects Fund. As in the past, some assembly members moved to change that funding source to be the Areawide General Fund, saying it makes more sense because the city will get reimbursed for funds spent on COVID-19 response by the federal government, specifically FEMA.

After significant back and forth between the assembly’s majority and assembly members Kennedy and Allard as well as members of the administration, all three emergency ordinances were amended to change their funding source to the general fund.

The second emergency ordinance, which the assembly also passed, sought about $258,000 for emergency family overflow sheltering, and the third sought about $5.59 million for labor, supplies and other expenditures required at the arena. Zaletel explained this covers all the services at the Sullivan Arena, other than the operator, 99 Plus 1, which was covered by the first ordinance.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the assembly began taking public comment on the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. Most budget items did not receive any public comment, but several people did speak up to voice concerns about how funds from the city’s alcohol tax are proposed to be allocated.

The assembly has more public hearings on the budget set for its Nov. 9 meeting.

The assembly voted to extend Thursday’s meeting to midnight, but did not get to three ordinances. The next scheduled meeting will be Monday.

One is an ordinance brought forward by Bronson that would extend the suspension of the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags.

Another is an ordinance sponsored by LaFrance and Constant that would speed up the process for confirming mayoral appointments to executive or department head positions.

Also on the assembly’s Thursday night agenda was a resolution supporting the new compromise plan the group of assembly and administration members formed with the help of a third-party facilitator to transition people out of the Sullivan Arena and house those experiencing homelessness long term.

If passed, the resolution says the assembly and administration would “Commit to a Public Private Partnership to develop a plan of finance for capital and operations costs.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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