Editor’s note: The following letter was submitted to Anchorage Assembly members by Beth Abisror in response to their refusal to hold a special election to let residents vote on a replacement for former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz who resigned on Oct. 23.
Dear Members of the Anchorage Assembly,
“Sometimes you eat the stew even if you don’t like all the veggies.” (Mr. Weddleton)
This logic applies to our current scenario regarding a special election. We may not like all the veggies (i.e., the added expense, the timeline, the current economic conditions, etc.); however, we still have to eat the stew and hold our special election for the mayor of Anchorage.
I am writing to you today to advocate in favor of a special election for the mayor of Anchorage. We must follow the city charter which clearly states we are obligated to hold a special election. The city charter language is not ambiguous.
We are obligated by our city charter to elect a new mayor.
Any time the city charter or other documents use “shall,” it has consistently been interpreted and implemented as “must.” For example, in the Assembly meetings, the agenda dictates: “Appearance requests and initial audience participation (shall begin no earlier than 5:15 p.m. and testimony by the last person for initial audience participation shall begin no later than 6 p.m.)” This is ALWAYS interpreted by the assembly to mean they must not start before 5:15 p.m. and the last testimony during initial audience participation must start before 6 p.m. We saw firsthand during Assembly meetings when the public was told they had to finish by 6 p.m. and additional public testimony could continue during the final audience participation opportunity. Ending public testimony at 6 p.m. was not optional, it was stated the Assembly could not extend the initial audience participation past 6 p.m.
As a citizen of Anchorage, I expect you to apply the meaning of “shall” consistently across documents and practices. This means the city charter and special election wording was meant to be interpreted as, “A vacancy in the office of mayor MUST be filled at a regular or special election held not less than 90 days from the time the vacancy occurs…”
The Assembly has set precedent that “shall” is interpreted as “must.” They are obligated to hold a special election. The only restriction is holding the special election within 90 days of the mayor’s resignation.
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
3,492 people voted for Assembly representative Austin Quinn-Davidson to be a representative for her district (the population of Anchorage was about 291,500 people at that time). She is elected to represent the people of West Anchorage. Now, West Anchorage has lost half of its representation until potentially July if there is no special election. That is against the city charter as well. The rest of the voters from the other districts did not vote to elect Ms. Quinn-Davidson as mayor.
Ms. Quinn-Davidson has been installed as an acting-mayor for the “short term” so that Anchorage has an acting mayor while we organize either a special election or regular election to be held no sooner than 90 days from Mayor Berkowitz’s resignation. We thank her for accepting this temporary position while we organize a proper special election.
We are obligated by our city charter to elect a new mayor. It is unfortunate that Mayor Berkowitz abandoned his post and left the municipality to clean up the mess at our expense. Unfortunately, that is not our choice. We cannot take expense or other negative conditions into consideration when scheduling the special election. Please schedule the special election for the mayor of Anchorage.