If you stop by the Municipality of Anchorage’s homepage, you’ll see a yellow block at the top of the page with a innocuous-sounding message about the upcoming special election which would be the recall of Assemblymember Meg Zalatel. It reminds folks that ballots are due on Oct. 26 and to click to learn more with a link directing people to the election’s website run by the clerk’s office.
Sounds harmless enough, right? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong for a reason that this ultra-wonky blog specializes in.
The issue comes down to who has the power to use public resources to supervise and run an election, which would be the Municipal Clerk’s office and only the Municipal Clerk’s office.
The problem is the website notice wasn’t put there by the clerk’s office, wasn’t approved by clerk’s office and has stayed up even though the clerk’s office has asked that it be taken down. Instead, it was put up by Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration, which has made no secret about their hopes to shift assembly far to the right. Not only is the Bronson administration treading beyond its bounds, but it’s also effectively using public resources to influence an election.
The issues are outlined in a letter from Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones to Municipal Manager Amy Demboski and Chief Information Technology Officer Marc Dahl sent on Monday.
“Only the Municipal Clerk’s Office has the authority to conduct outreach and education about elections,” Jones wrote. “No other Municipal entity – neither the Assembly nor the Mayor – has the authority to conduct outreach and education about elections because it is not in the Mayor’s nor the Administration’s usual course of duties to conduct outreach and education about elections. Because this banner was not authorized by the Municipal Clerk’s Office, it appears to be conduct in violation of state law and an APOC violation.”
The letter lays out how the change was “done without knowledge or notice to anyone on the Municipal Clerk’s Election Team” and how “the failure to communicate this change is troubling, not the least of which is that appears that the administration is conducting outreach and education about the special election.” It cites state laws and regulations from the Alaska Public Offices Commission that explains how using “government property and assets” in this manner, especially where it breaks all sorts of historical norms, is outside of the law.
“The direction from the administration to put notice of the special election on the website IS NOT within the administration’s usual and customary performance of their duties. The code does not authorize the administration to do this,” explains the letter. “The position of the banner on the municipal website for this special election has never been done in this way before. This elevates the notice of this special election beyond any historical customary notice provided in the history of the municipality. It is clearly intended to influence this election.”
It’s also important to point out that Assemblymember Zalatel, who represents District 4, has been closely involved in the Assembly’s efforts to address homelessness–which have run up against Bronson’s attempt to build a big costly and temporary shelter–and also has co-sponsored the assembly’s mask mandate as a response to Bronson’s hands-off approach to the pandemic. Earlier this year, a similar attempt to recall fellow District 4 Assemblymember Felix Rivera failed by 13 percentage points.
For Anchorage Municipal Clerk Jones, it’s about keeping the city’s elections free from “irreversible taint.”
“These issues are serious and of grave concern,” she wrote. “The integrity all municipal elections and compliance
with Charter, Municipal Code, and state law Is a duty charged to the Municipal Clerk. This message is in an attempt to
prevent irreversible taint on the upcoming election and correct what were probably well-intentioned actions but that
appear to violate election laws as described above.”
As of posting, the alert is still atop the website.