Anchorage Assembly passes additional rules for meetings and puts it into city code

Anchorage Assembly passes additional rules for meetings, puts it into city code
Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 6:45 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 9:26 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly took up an ordinance at its special assembly meeting Wednesday that put additional rules for meeting procedure into municipal code, which passed 9-2 with assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy voting against it.

Sponsored by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, Vice Chair Christopher Constant and assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, the ordinance text states that these changes would “promote the efficient, safe and orderly conduct of assembly business.” In November, the assembly passed an ordinance that officially delegated control over meeting spaces and logistics to the chair.

“The ordinance really just codifies what the assembly has been doing, the way assembly has been functioning for decades,” Perez-Verdia said. “It put’s into place procedures and processes that we use to manage meetings, that we use to make decisions, and so it’s really not anything new it’s really the things we’ve always been doing — but just putting them into code.”

The ordinance will codify additional rules of procedure for both the assembly and the chair. According to a memorandum attached to the ordinance, some of the “rules and nomenclature” in a newly revised version of Roberts Rules of Order depart from some of the assembly’s traditional practices. Putting these additional procedure rules into city code “can reduce confusion and provide greater clarity to the public,” the memo states.

“In kind of the last many months it’s become clear that what is customary is no longer accepted by some folks, and so we have to encode that which has been our practice,” Constant said.

Constant said the assembly goes in an order of operations for procedural rules, starting with the city charter, then the code, followed by Roberts Rules of Order and then customs which are actions that can be taken by the chair and assembly members based on longstanding assembly traditions.

“Previously it has all been done based on what has always been done, not what the code states,” Constant said.

Some of the code additions are:

  • The chair shall have the authority to prohibit members of the public from bringing dangerous or distracting items to assembly premises, or to require an item to be removed from assembly premises if it is being used to create an actual disturbance.
  • The chair shall have the authority to establish a seating chart for individuals participating in an assembly meeting, and to prescribe how the physical space of a premise used for an assembly meeting may be used.
  • The chair shall have the right to order a person to be removed from a meeting for creating an actual disturbance to the meeting.

In a series of volatile meetings this past fall over a proposed ordinance that would require masking in the city, the assembly was met with a number of boisterous, disruptive participants, some of whom brought signs and masks, others who were escorted out, and still others who were arrested. Thus far, the chair has relied on contracted security to remove people making a disturbance.

“In a lot of ways this ordinance is simply a cleaning up of what has become clear that we need to have better codification of the rules,” Constant said.

At the Tuesday, Jan. 9 assembly meeting, the assembly heard testimony over this ordinance.

“This ordinance is about censorship, not running efficient meetings,” one member of the public said.

In a statement sent to Alaska’s News Source previously, Mayor Dave Bronson likened the proposed changes to infringing on constitutional rights.

“Mayor Bronson supports the Assembly’s right to manage their meetings. But they don’t have the right to infringe on citizens constitutional rights including their right to petition their government,” said a statement from spokesperson Corey Allen Young. “The Mayor supports the First Amendment which gives every citizen the right to address their government.”

Perez-Verdia said there is a misconception around this ordinance. He has heard people think this is about limiting public testimony, but he says that’s not the case and that it’s about setting the rules for how the assembly conducts their meetings.

At the Tuesday night meeting, a few amendments to the ordinance were introduced, including one by assembly member John Weddleton who added an amendment dealing with silent protests, due to some silent protests from members of the public holding up the meetings recently.

“So one of my amendments essentially said, you can do that, but it can’t hold up the next speaker,” Weddleton said. “So if this is going on we can have perhaps two podiums. One if you’re going to stand in silence, that’s fine do it, but we’re going to let someone else come up and actually speak to us and provide information.”

The ordinance passed as amended. The rules will still be subject to being overruled by vote of the assembly.

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

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