After a month of banning residents from attending Anchorage Assembly meetings in person, Assembly Chair Felix Rivera announced on Aug. 31 that the chambers will be reopened to the public but only under strict conditions that include compulsory facemasks and mandatory contact tracing.
The first open meeting will occur tonight at 5 p.m. during a special meeting that only includes two agenda items for retail marijuana licensing renewals. There will, however, be a public comment period in which participants can speak on non-agenda items.
The Assembly has been under enormous and mounting pressure to allow the public to attend meetings in person to voice their concerns. Protests earlier this month included hundreds of residents chanting “Let us in” while guards were stationed at all entrances to keep people out due to COVID-19 concerns.
With the expansive Assembly chambers emptied of constituents, elected officials have passed a number of highly controversial measures. This includes approving the use of federal coronavirus relief funds to buy homeless shelter properties, banning counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction and extending Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s ability to impose emergency orders on citizens. During this time, the public were forced to watch Assembly proceedings online and could only testify via phone.
“If compliance is not achieved, the Chair shall not allow public testimony in person…”
According to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s latest emergency order, political events can now allow 50% capacity beginning Aug. 31. Assembly Chair Rivera sent out a notice saying the Assembly will allow up to 60 people in the chambers at the Loussac Library.
That said, Rivera is prepared to shut everything back down if the public does not toe the line in regard mandatory masks, contact tracing and temperature checks.
All municipal employees, Assembly members, and the general public will be required to keep six feet of distance between non-household members and wear face coverings except while speaking, drinking, or eating, or pursuant to exemptions such as medical problems with mask wearing.
Anyone allowed in the chamber must also complete a contact tracing log which includes their first and last name and telephone number. The Assembly claims this log will be “kept confidential unless access is requested by a public health official requiring the information as it relates to an outbreak or spike in COVID-19 cases at or related to this location.”
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Those in the Assembly chamber must also submit to a forehead temperature check that will be recorded in the contact tracing log.
Rivera will call for compliance with all these measures.
“If compliance is not achieved, the Chair shall not allow public testimony in person and shall instead conduct public testimony by telephone,” the notice states.
Assembly members Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard have repeatedly called on their colleagues to open the chambers to the public, warning that failure to do so may be in violation of Alaska’s Open Meetings Act.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, a group of Anchorage residents are joining Allard at La Mex Restaurant (5-7 p.m.) to raise funds to sue the Assembly for barring the public from its meetings over the past month. The event is open to the public.