A Superior Court ruling Wednesday upheld Mayor Dan Sullivan's veto on a date for a public vote on a controversial city labor law, affirming the mayor's power to veto election dates.
Passed by the Anchorage Assembly in March, the labor ordinance known as AO-37 immediately spawned a referendum petition to put the law up to a public vote. In September more than 22,000 signatures were delivered to the city clerk's office, more than enough to put the issue before voters.
In October the assembly voted 6-5 to set April 1, 2014, as the date for that vote, but a veto from Mayor Sullivan ultimately pushed the issue to court.
At issue was the power of the assembly to set elections, and the power of the mayor's veto to override a date set by the assembly. The Superior Court heard oral arguments in the case in December.
Wednesday's Superior Court ruling upheld the mayor's veto power.
"This Court finds the Mayor acted pursuant to his broadly construed veto authority that vests 'sweeping' powers in his position and concludes that the Mayor's decision to veto the referendum date was exercised under his proper authority," the court wrote.
The court found that, by voting to move the election to April, rather than following the charter-prescribed deadline for an election 75 days after a petition is certified, "the Assembly made the voluntary decision to involve itself in the referendum process and created an opportunity for a veto."
Additionally, the city charter dictates that pushing a vote beyond the 75-day deadline suspends the law in question, an inherently "legislative act" the court found imposes on the mayor's powers. "Such an act cannot be immune to the checks and balances mechanism used by the Mayor," the court found.
Superior Court Judge Erin Marston wrote in the decision that the "plain language" of the city charter and a lack of explicit restrictions in the charter on the mayor's veto power led the court to conclude "the Assembly's ordinance that sets a later referendum date is subject to the mayoral veto."
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Sullivan wrote that he is "pleased by today’s decision made by Superior Court Judge Erin Marston confirming our position regarding the mayor's veto power and how it applies to various assembly actions."
Addressing the veto of the April date, Sullivan wrote that "elections of significant community interest are best conducted when voter turnout is proven to be significantly larger, thus preventing special interest groups from undue influence over the election results.”
The assembly has 21 days to appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, according to Assemblyman Paul Honeman.
"I'm disappointed that it's still in question," Honeman said. A vocal opponent of AO-37, Honeman said he personally wants to appeal the ruling, but he said the decision will ultimately be made by the assembly as a whole.
Some assembly members have suggested putting the initiative on the November ballot, or even delaying the AO-37 vote to April 2015. Honeman said the assembly will likely take up this issue in its next meeting.
"It's an honest debate about what's the right thing to do," Honeman said, but said Wednesday's ruling "upset(s) the apple cart in the middle of what people are doing."
Short of a successful appeal, the April date for a public vote on the labor ordinance is off the table.
Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall said in October that Sullivan's veto meant no official date had been chosen for the ordinance vote.
It was uncertain Wednesday whether the labor ordinance vote will be held in November, or if the issue will go before the assembly again to set another date. Phone calls to Hall were not returned Wednesday afternoon.
KTUU's Grace Jang contributed to this story.
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