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Following Mayor Resignation, Anchorage Assembly Extends COVID-19 Emergency Statement to November 30

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Following the resignation of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Tuesday evening, the Anchorage Assembly voted to extend the COVID-19 Municipal Emergency Statement until November 30.

It is the fifth time that the Assembly has extended the declaration of emergency, which gives the mayor special powers to issue emergency orders and take other actions to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The motion to extend the emergency declaration passed 9-1, with the Assembly voting against Jamie Allard. Allard consistently opposed the declaration of emergency and voted against any previous extension.

“How can we extend emergency powers to a man who has just resigned?” Allard said.

The Berkowitz administration had requested that the extension be valid until the end of the year, December 31st. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Anchorage and across the state, and city leaders have said the statement is a necessary response to the public health threat.

Municipal Director Bill Falsey said the emergency declaration allows the municipality to act quickly in response to unforeseen conditions and challenges that arise as a result of the pandemic, such as support for COVID-19 test sites.

But a motion filed by Congresswoman Crystal Kennedy and passed by the agency means the city is moving to gradually abandon the state of emergency and will find other ways to deal with the pandemic.

A section added to the motion states that “the intent of this extension is solely to allow time to restore all processes from their current state of emergency and into the normal MOA management processes.”

Congresswoman Suzanne LaFrance also tabled a motion to shorten the extension period from late December to November.

“My concern is that we continue to carry out the emergency orders rather than take the next step, which is to understand what the transition to a more permanent solution needs to be,” LaFrance said. He noted that the Assembly could issue ordinances that respond to the pandemic.

He said he will work with the Mayor’s Assembly and administration on an ordinance that “will recognize the ongoing significant impact of COVID-19, but will also reduce the perpetual state of emergency and grant special powers.”

If the declaration of emergency had not been extended on Tuesday, all current emergency orders from the mayor’s office would no longer be in effect. Emergency orders still in place include a city-wide mandate for masks in public spaces and EO-14, which places capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and breweries and limits the size of indoor gatherings.

A public hearing will be required prior to any further extension of the declaration of emergency, according to an amendment approved by the Assembly and presented by Assemblyman John Weddleton. MP Meg Zaletel proposed a further amendment to the extension requiring the public hearing to take place two weeks before the deadline for the declaration at the end of November.

The mayor’s use of emergency powers to manage the pandemic has attracted controversial public testimony at previous Assembly meetings.

On Tuesday, a crowd gathered in classrooms again to speak out against the extension and the mayor during tense public testimony. Assembly President Felix Rivera warned the crowd, who occasionally broke out in shouts, to be respectful. He said people who were not respectful would be removed from the rooms.

Several people who testified asked the Assembly how it could extend the mayor’s emergency powers following his resignation. Several have spoken of the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions.

“By keeping these orders in place, you condemn your constituents to a sure death. People are starving, people can’t afford to pay their bills, people are really struggling right now, “Rosa Mealey said.

The resignation of the mayor will take effect on October 23, and at that time the presidency of the Assembly will take over as interim mayor. Rivera is currently president.

The mayor’s current emergency powers would expire this Friday and were first issued in March, when the Assembly sought to take action against the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

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