The Anchorage Assembly held two major votes Tuesday related to controversial Anchorage Ordinance 37, a reform of the city's negotiation process for labor contracts.
Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed both decisions.
The Assembly voted 7-4 to overturn the ordinance and 6-5 to schedule a referendum for April 1, 2014. The Assembly did not have the eight votes needed to override Sullivan's vetoes.
"We've just relegated the decision over when to set the election to the mayor?" said Assembly member Bill Starr. "Is that what's really transpiring?"
Assembly members questioned the validity of the mayor's vetoes during the meeting. Legal counsel from city and Assembly attorneys was split on whether the mayor can reject a referendum scheduled by the Assembly.
While Assembly Chair Ernie Hall requested the issue be settled in Superior Court on an expedited basis, Sullivan says municipal law is on his side.
"The charter speaks very, very broadly that the mayor has the power to veto, and does not limit it elsewhere in the charter, so it's a pretty broad power," Sullivan said.
Sullivan adds that the mayor is given power to veto Assembly responsibilities such as the budget.
Some of the union leaders who sat in the packed audience Tuesday said a day later they are concerned by Sullivan's prepared vetoes.
Sgt. Gerard Asselin of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association said it is an example of how the mayor is counting votes.
"That's a little bit disturbing if the executive branch has that much control over the legislative branch, that he knows what the outcome is going to be," he said.
"If the mayor can veto absolutely everything the assembly does, what's the Assembly there for if you don't have eight votes?" said Mike Stumbaugh, president of the Anchorage Firefighters Union. "Essentially, he can dictate how everything is done."
Sullivan says he believes a Superior Court judge will side with him. He would like a repeal vote to be scheduled for November 2014.
April elections typically have very low voter turnout, Sullivan points out, and thousands more voters would participate in the fall.
"I think an issue like this deserves this kind of turnout," said Sullivan.
But local unions that have fought for months to get the ordinance repealed, mounting a petition drive that collected more than 22,000 signatures, claim the escalating showdown over AO-37 is an example of bad process.
"When you start to manipulate the process in place, it really casts doubt on the whole thing," Asselin said.
Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said the administration will also request that the Superior Court expedite the process, though a timeframe remains unclear.