The Municipality of Anchorage has again rejected a petition to place a referendum repealing Mayor Dan Sullivan’s controversial labor ordinance on the city ballot, naming some of the same causes from its first refusal two weeks ago.
In a Monday memo to acting Municipal Clerk Amanda Moser, City Attorney Dennis Wheeler says the revised version of the referendum, submitted by sponsor Andy Holleman and other backers, properly cites Assembly Ordinance 37 and omits inaccurate supporting statements -- reasons also cited as a reason for refusal of the previous referendum.
Wheeler says the changes don’t address the city’s primary objection that the referendum improperly targets AO37, which it considers an administrative measure protected by Alaska Supreme Court decisions, rather than a legislative measure which a referendum may legitimately counter.
“We acknowledge and appreciate the effort the sponsors made to outline their legal position on this issue, but do not find the reasons provided to be compelling justification to advise the Municipal Clerk the petition is legally sufficient,” Wheeler wrote. “We had suggested the sponsors write a more specific petition application, one targeting purely legislative matters. Unfortunately, we have not received a more precise application.”
In a Wednesday letter to Wheeler, Susan Orlansky, an attorney for the referendum’s backers, said AO37 was legislative in nature, pointing out that the ordinance was passed March 26 by a 6-5 vote of the Anchorage Assembly -- the city’s legislative body.
“The (city) Charter does not authorize the executive or administrative branch to adopt such a law; legislative action is required,” Orlansky wrote. “Where responsibility for enacting policy and rules is assigned to the legislative branch, major amendments likewise must be considered legislative.”
Wheeler rejected that line of reasoning in his opinion, saying a Kansas Supreme Court test of whether a law is legislative or administrative -- cited by Alaska justices in prior cases -- depends on more conditions than which branch of city government enacted it.
“This analysis is obviously too simplistic,” Wheeler wrote. “Under this interpretation of the test for legislative (versus) administrative matters, any ordinance, even if purely administrative in nature, is fair game for a referendum.”
Orlansky and Wheeler also differ over the nature of AO37’s exact changes. Orlansky says its provisions denying unions the power to strike and limiting collective bargaining fall under criteria from the Kansas test which suggest the ordinance is legislative in nature.
“(AO37) clearly makes new law,” Orlansky wrote. “It declares new public purposes and provides new ways and means to accomplish those purposes.”
Wheeler says AO37’s changes aren’t new laws, but rather revisions of the city’s existing labor policy.
“Simply because the policy section of a particular municipal code chapter is amended does not mean it is ‘new policy,’ particularly when it is clarifying an existing position,” Wheeler wrote.
Holleman, the referendum’s sponsor, hadn’t read through the city’s second refusal Tuesday afternoon. He says backers will take the case to court going forward, rather than submitting a third version.
“Probably within a week -- it could happen in a few days,” Holleman said.
Contact Chris Klint