Mayor Bronson wants to change city charter to make the municipal clerk an elected position

Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 3:43 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2021 at 4:25 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson is proposing to amend the city’s charter to change the municipal clerk from an appointed position to an elected one.

The position of the municipal clerk for Anchorage is appointed by the Anchorage Assembly and is responsible, among other things, for supervising city elections. The current clerk is Barbara Jones, who has served in that position since 2012.

Bronson announced his proposal on Thursday afternoon in a press release. The ordinance he’s bringing forward would amend city charter to make the clerk an elected position that serves a three-year term. The person would need to be an Anchorage resident for two years prior to being elected and maintain Anchorage residency while in office.

The move comes after the Anchorage Assembly approved numerous updates to the city’s election code, including training standards for election observers, a requirement for 24/7 livestreaming of election processes and rules about where observers can use recording devices. It’s generally a routine process and the section of city code is reviewed regularly, but this year the updates to the code were drawn out over two public hearings during which several members of the public claimed the changes would vest too much power with the municipal clerk.

One of the updates made to the code was to clarify that each candidate and group is allowed a minimum of one, and maximum of four election observers. The maximum of four may not always be possible to accommodate, the clerk’s office had said, especially when there is a large number of candidates. In that case, the municipal clerk can limit the overall number of observers, but must show good cause to do so. Each candidate will still get an equal share of observers if they maximum cannot be accommodated.

Before passing the election code changes, assembly members Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard had argued for an amendment that would require the clerk to confer with a municipal attorney before being able to make the decision of whether to limit the overall number of observers.

Allard argued at the time that having the clerk confer with an attorney before making a call about the number of observers would be for the clerk’s own protection from challenges to any ruling they made.

“To make sure that everything that that clerk is doing is on the up and up,” Allard said.

Bronson clashed with the assembly during the election code revision process, at one point saying the updates would “significantly reduce transparency of the election process.” In Thursday’s press release announcing the proposal, Bronson is quoted as saying that turning the municipal clerk into an elected position “will improve transparency, create accountability, and increase trust in the democratic process.”

When asked whether the claim made by members of the public that the position could have too much power factored into the mayor’s decision to bring this proposal forward, spokesperson Hans Rodvik referred back to the press release and repeated the goals to improve transparency, accountability and trust in the process. He also pointed out that other states have county clerks that are elected.

Some members of the assembly don’t agree. Kennedy and Vice Chair Christopher Constant declined to comment. Others said the proposal is not a good idea, and has the potential to politicize the position of the municipal clerk.

“What the Mayor has proposed is not only a horrible idea, but shows that he cares nothing for the separation of powers,” assembly member Felix Rivera said.

In order to change city charter, the ordinance Bronson is proposing would need to be passed by the assembly with a two-thirds majority. Then, it would have to be put on the ballot for the April 2022 election, for voters to either approve or reject the change.

“There is no need to change the structure of how Anchorage elections are conducted,” assembly member Meg Zaletel said in a statement. “The Clerk has run and continues to run fair, secure elections. I have seen nothing to suggest that making this position an elected position adds anything of value, but instead politicizes an otherwise neutral position.”

“It’s a shame that instead of focusing on substantive policy changes that could spur economic development or otherwise make residents’ lives better, the Mayor is focusing his energy on politicizing our election process,” assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said.

Other major municipalities and boroughs in the state have clerks that are appointed, not elected. The clerks for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Fairbanks North Star Borough are all appointed by their respective assemblies, and the city clerk for the City of Fairbanks is appointed by the city council.

“The Clerk’s office has worked well in this system, administering fair elections, for decades,” said assembly member Forrest Dunbar. “The mayor’s actions, and the behavior of his campaign and supporters towards election workers this spring, are clearly a part of the nationwide effort to discredit fair elections. I hope he abandons this approach and joins the Assembly in focusing on jobs, economic growth, and public safety in the coming year.”

Following this past spring’s mayoral runoff election in Anchorage, the clerk’s office released a report that detailed “disrespectful, harassing, and threatening behavior” that was directed at city election officials, in part by election observers.

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

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