Assembly Report for November 6, 2007
ASSEMBLY BUDGET HEARINGS: ROUND TWO: Fight fans from all over Anchorage mobbed the Loussac on Tuesday night to get their licks in on the 2008-9 operating budget. Standing in line for as long as an hour, dozens of people requested additional funds for after school programs, pools, busses, youth crime prevention, youth employment, medical care for the uninsured, domestic violence prevention, libraries, planning. After about three hours of public hearings, the assembly voted to continue public hearings until November 13, 2007 with action on the budget now scheduled for November 27th. Amendments coming from assembly members and th Adminstration have not yet been submitted.
Solely preoccupied with keeping "their" meeting running on time, Chairman Dan Coffey and Vice Chair Debbie Ossiander hit a new low in treatment of the public during what was supposed to be the public's turn to address the assembly on the budget. Coffey's constant reminders about the notorious three minute time limit, false praise showered on persons whose testimony did not generate questions from the Assembly, and forcing the public to stand in a long line for almost an hour before they were allowed to play "beat the clock", was simply humiliiating and degraging. One person described the entire process as "collective begging".
I/M PROGRAM REPEALED: By a vote of 8-2, (Coffey conflicted out of the vote) the Assembly repealed the city’s longstanding vehicle inspection and maintenance (I/M) program. Passage of AO 2007-122 ends the city’s mandatory vehicle exhaust emission testing program in two years, pending federal approval. Under IM, Anchorage vehicles must undergo periodic emissions tests and owners must make required repairs before vehicles may be lawfully operated on city streets in order to reduce carbon dioxide air pollution. The principle argument for eliminating the program is the comparatively low number of "bad air" days Anchorage is now experiencing as a result of improved technology used in automobile engines and exhaust systems. The current IM program costs Anchorage residents some $8M in inspection in repair fees annually. A competing proposal to continue the IM program, with modifications recommended by a mayoral task force was introduced on Tuesday by Assembly member Selkregg and set for public hearing on November 27th.
ASSEMBLY CONSERVATIVES TARGET TEAMSTERS’ CONTRACT FOR MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES: Approval of a five year collective bargaining agreement between the Municipality and a labor union (Teamsters 959) representing several groups of city employees drew fire Tuesday night when the proposed contract was presented by mayor Begich for ratification. Comments by Assembly members Chris Birch suggest serious opposition to the contract. Birch indicated his "grave concern" over the contract, objected to arbitration provisions in the contract and its costs. Jennifer Johnston wants to review the contract only after the assembly takes action on the budget. Bill Starr voiced concerns over budget considerations as well. Action on the contract was delayed until November 27th.
Negotiated for 117 municipal employees who work in the transit and refuse departments, the new contract would last for five years and would raise wages 2.9% for each during the first two years of the contract, with a limited CPI adjustment in the third year and wage re openers in the final two yeas of the contract. Service recognition pay would be limited to those currently receiving that benefits and ultimately eliminated through attrition.
Tuesday's dust up over the Teamsters' contract is a wake up call to represented municipal employees: This "conservative" assembly is strongly anti-labor and will now use its power to reject negotiated union contracts and over the budget to destroy thrity years of labor peace betwen the municipal administration and organized employees. Any influence that organized labor still enjoyes in this municipality comes from efforts of hard working men and women to unite and organize around traditional principles of fair play and fair wages. While openly anti union leaders like Chris Birch, Paul Bauer, and Bill Starr are all running for office this spring, the question is asked "how will labor respond to these members' efforts to undo what so many people over the years have worked so hard to acheive?"
ONCE AGAIN, SINGLE MEMBER DISTRICTS AND MAYORAL RUN OFF ELECTIONS, : Confidently looking backward once again, Assemblymember Dan Sullivan on Tuesday formally introduced ballot measures which would restore expensive run off elections in the race for mayor and resurect an old idea to carve out single member districts for assembly members. Little has changed in recent years since these proposals were rejected by previous assemblies and voters, but with a more conservative majority running the assembly, theses old dogs may get another chance before the voters. Public hearing on the run off measure is scheduled for November 27th; on singe member districts for January 22, 2008. Because a charter change is required, eight votes of the Assembly are necessary to put the measures on the spring ballot.
DOWNTOWN PLAN STALLED, ONCE AGAIN: Delayed for months by a backlog of Assembly business, a new downtown plan stalled again Tuesday night. Assembly members plowed through a number of floor amendments and then when pressed by other business, left the matter on the table for possible action at the next meeting. Years in the making and supported by the Administration and Planning and Zoning Commission, the new downtown plan establishes a strategy for downtown revitalization, new land use and economic development policies, transportation and circulation, design standards, and program strategies such as signage and wayfinding, safety and security, and event activity programming. The matter returns to the Assembly on December 14th.
"GRANDFATHER RIGHTS" ADDRESSED IN NEW TITLE 21 CHAPTER NOW BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY: The all important portion of the city’s new zoning code dealing with the thorny issue of "grandfather rights" or the rights of property owners to continue uses existing uses and structures made illegal under zoning changes is now before the Assembly. Chapter 21.12 of the new Title 21, was approved recently by the Planning and Zoning Commission with recommended amendments. Final action on the ordinance will not be taken until Debbie Ossiander presents her amendments to the assembly and responds to those proposed by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Its not entirely clear that public testimony on the chapter will be taken, nor is a date set for further action by the Assembly on the chapter.
CAUGHT IN THE LOGJAM, TRAINI’S FIREWORKS CAPER IS DELAYED: Other business forced the Assembly to delay action on a controversial ordinance proposed by Assembly member Dick Traini to relax the city’s ban on fireworks for a few hours after midnight on New Years’ day. Public hearings on the ordinance will be continued to November 13, 2007.