In an order issued Dec. 11, Superior Court Judge Una Sonia Gandbhir refused to prohibit the Anchorage Assembly from holding future closed-door meetings that bar the public from in-person participation due to COVID concerns.
The order came after hearing oral arguments on Dec. 4 which are part of an ongoing lawsuit claiming the Anchorage Assembly violated Alaska’s Open Meetings Act by refusing to let the public attend Assembly meetings this past August.
The lawsuit is being brought by a group called Alaskans for Open Meetings. They claim any actions the Assembly took during closed door meetings should ultimately be nullified. The group wanted Judge Gandbhir to enjoin the Assembly from holding any closed door meetings while the lawsuit proceeds.
In refusing to issue to prohibition, Gandbhir did not say she believed the plaintiffs overall lawsuit would fail, but she did not think it was right to interfere with the Assembly’s actions at this early stage of the lawsuit.
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Attorney Mike Corey, representing Alaskans for Open Meetings, told Judge Gandbhir on Dec .4 that the Assembly’s ban on in-person participation this summer violated the people’s right to assembly and free speech. He said, “everyone one of us has the obligation to follow the law,” including Anchorage Assembly members. The fact that they met in person and allowed municipal employees and invited guests into the Assembly Chambers, while locking the doors to the public, shows an “arrogance” with regard to the law, he said.
During closed meetings in August, the Assembly only allowed telephonic at a time when it was passing highly controversial measures such as using federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase city buildings for homeless projects, approving a chief equity officer and banning counseling for youth who have unwanted same-sex attraction. The Assembly rejected a proposal by Assemblywoman Jamie Allard to allow just one member of the public into the building at a time. Corey called this decision “completely irrational” and highlighted that Anchorage residents were still free to shop all around town at the time.