Assembly Report for January 6, 2009
CLAMAN’S FIRST STAFF APPOINTMENTS: After becoming Acting Mayor in a brief ceremony on Saturday, Matt Claman took little time before naming key executives to a new team at city hall.
Private public relations consultant Patty Ginsburg will be Claman’s chief of staff. Ginsburg, will oversee the operations of the mayor’s office, develop and communicate policy to departments and the public, and coordinate municipal agencies. Ginsburg started her career as a reporter for the Peninsula Times Tribune in California. Ginsburg previously worked as the marketing director for Municipal Light & Power, vice president of public relations for Northwest Strategies and public information director for Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. She holds a bachelor’s in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley.
Former Alaska District Court Judge Nancy Nolan is Claman’s senior policy adviser. She has practiced both criminal and civil law, and worked as an assistant attorney general. She worked as an attorney in private practice and as a committing magistrate. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Colorado and holds a law degree from the University of California, Davis.
Marge Larsen, a former director of American Lung Association will be Claman’s special assistant. Larsen worked as director of communications for the Lung Association from 2001 – 2003 and later as executive director from 2005 – 2008. She is active in the Anchorage Downtown Rotary and serves on the Anchorage Air Quality Advisory Board. Larsen holds a bachelor’s of liberal arts from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
EAGLE RIVER GROUP WANTS TO WRENCH TAX CAP DOWN WITH A NEWINITIATIVE: 16 Eagle River residents on December 31, 2008 applied to the Municipal Clerk for an Initiative petition that would cut municipal spending by $16M in next year’s municipal budget. If approved at the April 4, 2009 election, the measure would further limit city property tax increases by changing the way earnings received from city utilities are considered in calculating revenues the city may collect under its Tax Cap which voters first enacted in 1983. Led by Eagle River residents Neil Nichols and Jay Gracey, petitioners are members of the Municipal Taxpayers’ League who want “to win back for taxpayers what was taken from us in 2003" by then Mayor Mark Begich. The group targets an ordinance sponsored by Begich and approved by the Assembly in 2003 which clarified municipal law by allowing the city to treat utility profits “outside” of the voter approved tax cap even though previous mayors had regarded utility payments under the cap, thereby limiting municipal spending. If approved by voters, the initiative would reduce property tax revenues available to the city in 2010 by $16M and require spending cuts, according to City Manager Mike Abbott.
When asked to identify budget cuts that he would support in order to meet the more stringent tax cap he has proposed, Nichols identified $30,000 he claims the City’s health department pays to distribute condoms “in the downtown”. Nichols would not identify other cuts he would make and instead expressed his “full confidence in Dan Sullivan to navigate those waters.” Sullivan is a former Assemblyman from West Anchorage and candidate for mayor in the April, 2009 election.
“Growth and diversity [in the city’s] revenue stream” and reduced labor costs through “managed competition” between workers providing city services are also goals of Nichols’ organization. The group’s website is http://www.mtlanc.org/
The Municipal Clerk and Municipal Attorney have ten days or until January 10, 2009 to check signatures and determine legal sufficiency of the petition. If approved, sponsors will have until the end of February to obtain some 8500 signatures from voters needed to place the measure before voters on April 7th.
MARK TO MATT: ENJOY! A first read of outgoing mayor Mark Begich’s Transition Report he left in acting Mayor Matt Claman’s in box only hints at some of the issues Claman and his ten Assembly colleges will wrestle over during coming months. Most of the 76 page report recounts the accomplishments of several dozen municipal agencies over the past six years in what most Anchorage residents regard as successful administration. And yet, curiously omitted from an otherwise upbeat assessment of the Begich years were any real discussion of the new Museum expansion, the Town Square makeover, the E St Corridor, the Mountain View revitalization, property tax relief for homeowners, streamlined procedures for property assessment appeals,creation of the Cooperative Services Authority.
Items Begich said were left on the table include: Title 21 Rewrite project. Originally scheduled for completion in 2004, Begich says the last portions of the new code will go to the Assembly in Spring, 2009. AWWU is anxiously waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court of Alaska on an appeal filed by the mayor from a decision of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) changing the method the city uses for collecting utility service assessments in lieu of property taxes. The city lost the case before the RCA and on appeal to the Superior court, if the City cannot win a reversal in the Supreme Court, the potential liability for the MOA is $26M. The ongoing problem of public inebriates remain a significant issue in Anchorage.
Just plain curious were several other entries in the Begich Report: In the coldest, darkest days of winter, and when mayoral candidate Shiela Sellkregg warns of a potentially disastrous natural gas shortage in Anchorage, ML&P’s Jim Posey cheerfully checks “N/A” for “Issues
Requiring Immediate Attention” in the Report. Very proud of the $700M hoard he has assembled for the Port of Anchorage expansion, Port Director Bill Sheffield needs some personnel changes there and instructs Claman that he “will need to be supportive of any staff/reclassification changes the Port makes” for the project to succeed. Emphasis added.. According to the City’s Emergency Services Director, Kevin Spillars, the single issue requiring his department’s “immediate attention” in his is a Charter amendment “with special emphasis on lines of succession.” City Attorney Jim Reeves boasts that “In the current administration, the Municipal Attorney has been treated (and . . . by Assembly members and the legal community) as a legal professional rather than as the Mayor’s political confidante or tactician..” Finally, virtually every department head argues for more money, personnel, equipment, and facilities. So it is no wonder the Report also notes the City has had six controllers in the past five years and six OMB directors since Begich took office.
To read the Begich Transition Report, go to the City’s website at http://www.muni.org and click on 2009 Begich Administration Transition Report.
HE’S BACK: DAN COFFEY IS THE NEW VICE CHAIR. Supported by a secret ballot of eight of his colleagues, Mid Town Assembly member Dan Coffey returned to a leadership position of the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night as West Anchorage’s Harriet Drummond became Chair.
In his second term on the Assembly, Coffey brings considerable experience to his new position as vice chair. He held that position for two years previously in 2005-7 and served as chair from 2007-8. Coffey’s previous tenure in leadership positions was controversial: In September, 2005 he and then Assembly Chair Anna Fairclough closed the Assembly office and fired staffers Elvi Gray Jackson and Mike Guiterrez. Coffey almost lost his seat to Gray Jackson in 2007 amid charges of conflicts of interest. Both Grey Jackson and Gutierrez were elected to the Assembly in April, 2008 and are now in their first term on the body.
Coffey’s one year term as Chair between 2007-8 was marked by release of a tape recording he inadvertently made of a candid conversation with Eagle River Assembly member Bill Starr in which Coffey boasted of collecting and then “doling out” campaign contributions in the Spring, 2008 election. A complaint was filed by APOC staff against Coffey last spring and only recently dismissed by the full Commission.
Previously vice chair, Drummond became Chair once former Chair Matt Claman became Acting Mayor over the weekend.
ASSEMBLY CLARIFIES VOTING REQUIREMENTS FOR LEADERSHIP CHANGES: With little fanfare on Tuesday night, the Assembly clarified voting requirements for replacing its chair or vice chair as it was required to do once Assembly member Matt Claman became Acting Mayor. AO 2008-131 provides that six affirmative votes of Assembly members are required to replace the body’s chair or vice chair at mid term. Passage of the ordinance ends a controversy which surfaced last month when rumors circulated in Anchorage that some Assembly members wanted to replace West Anchorage’s Matt Claman as Assembly Chair before he became Acting Mayor following the election of Mark Begich to the U. S. Senate.
Mid-Town Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson did not vote on AO 2008- 131 as she was out of town.