The Press newsroom has never made a habit of re-publishing press releases whole, either in the pages of our newspaper or online. There are obvious reasons for this. The first being that PR spin is often deceptive and, at the very least, can be counted on to give a one-sided view of an issue. The second reason is spin doctors have a tendency to be boring, producing copy crafted to earn the approval of their bosses (and keep their paychecks coming) rather than enlighten the public. And in Alaska, there seem to be enough media outlets actively re-publishing PR spin that readers should have no trouble at all keeping track of the corporations, citizens’ groups and political parties that seek to get their message out.
That said, this post is meant to give voice to some spin offered by the Anchorage Assembly’s Citizen Task Force on the Public Hearing Process. We believe it’s an important announcement, and you’ll find links to two documents from the task force below. The task force (which could’ve used a spin doctor when it adopted its unfortunately long name) was formed in the wake of controversial Assembly meetings that were swamped in February and March when hundreds of citizens showed up to criticize Mayor Dan Sullivan’s new labor law. To get the labor law through, the Assembly’s conservative bloc voted to cut off public testimony. That action appears to be a violation of Anchorage’s city charter, which guarantees the right of each citizen to be heard prior to the Assembly passing “any ordinance” except those adopted in an emergency. The Assembly was paralyzed, however, by the huge turnout organized by activists in support of city workers.
This week the task force announced some recommendations in a press release. The recommendations are not yet final, and won’t be forwarded to the Assembly until the citizens of Anchorage get one more chance to review them. The task force is not recommending any change to the city charter, a predictable stance that avoids a drawn-out election campaign that may further divide the city’s voters and political busy bodies. If the press release is any indication, the task force wants the Assembly to keep its door open.
“The recommendations of the group are based on the principle that public involvement enhances the development of public policy in Anchorage,” Jane Angvik, the task force chairwoman said in the written statement. “When citizens share information, their insights and values with the Assembly, proposed laws are strengthened.”
The task force wants to hear from the people of Anchorage, not just those connected to political movements, corporate interests or various politicized social movements caught up in the policies of the city. They have a meeting scheduled to take place in the Assembly chamber at the Z.J. Loussac Library Tuesday, October 1, beginning at 6 p.m. It’s a public hearing about policies and public hearings. We know it’s deep in the thickets of political roughage, but it’s also important. A representative democracy cannot be representative if the public doesn’t trust and know that elected officials listen to the concerns of the people.
Below you will find links to two documents. One is the task force press release and meeting announcement. The other is more important. It’s the draft of task force recommendations to the Assembly on public hearing policies. That’s the document the task force wants you to review before they can complete their work. It represents a chance for the people of Anchorage to tweak their democracy just a bit, and ensure the idealistic principles in the city charter remain in play during future controversies. The alternative—and the Assembly will always have the power to dump the task force recommendations in a waste bin—is a representative democracy in which elected can changes the rules arbitrarily, and one where their responsibility to listen is either avoided or actively ignored just when its most needed.
Press Release 09202013