Anchorage Assembly will consider measure that would amend charter to cap the time an acting mayor can serve

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is considering a measure that would update the requirements in city charter for filling a vacancy in the mayor’s office, requiring a special election to be held within a set amount of time to ensure an elected successor.

The proposed ordinance, submitted by members John Weddleton and Crystal Kennedy, would also change the allowable period for holding a special election to fill a vacancy on the assembly from no more than 60 days, to no more than 90 days.

The measures comes after the assembly chose member Austin Quinn-Davidson to serve as acting mayor for around nine months, after the resignation of former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in 2020.

“You know, nine months was a really long time to have an acting mayor in, partly because you have someone in a position that they just don’t have that democratic authority, but it also takes for nine months one representative from a district, which was also a problem,” Weddleton said. “You know we had some 5-5 votes that means that something failed, but it might of gone 6-5 and passed.”

A vacancy of the mayor is filled by the assembly chair, who then serves as acting mayor.

Going forward, in cases where any acting mayor holds office, this ordinance proposes changing city charter to require that a special election be held after no later than three months. Currently, the charter states that a mayoral vacancy shall be filled by either a special election or a regular election, no sooner than 90 days from the vacancy, but it does not include a time by which an election must be held no later than.

“No sooner than 90 days, which matches the charter. You can’t do it earlier than three months, so that there’d be a chance for people to say, ‘yes I want to run,’ gear up, get a campaign going,” Weddelton said. “So no sooner than 90 days, but no later than 120 would there be a special election for the mayor.”

There are two exceptions to this rule proposed in the ordinance:

  • If it’s the final year of the mayor’s term when the vacancy occurs and there are less than 120 days until the next regular election, the vacancy wouldn’t be filled and the acting mayor would serve until the person elected mayor to a new term takes office.
  • If the vacancy occurs 90 days or more, but less than 120 days before, the next regular election, a successor may be elected through the regular election process.

“I brought it up primarily to make more clear in the charter what the process is for filling a vacancy in the office of mayor,” Weddleton said. “The main goal was to minimize the amount of time that Anchorage has an acting mayor, but also allow enough time to do a proper election.”

The elected successor would serve the balance of the term and take office 30 days after certification of the election, according to the ordinance text.

The assembly will be taking this matter up at a special meeting on Wednesday Jan. 19. If the ordinance is approved, this question of amending the charter would be put on the upcoming April ballot for the public to take a vote.

The ordinance sponsors aren’t the only ones looking to propose something like this. At the Jan. 25 assembly meeting, Vice-Chair Chris Constant will introduce his own version, which would change the city code instead of the charter.

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