Anchorage mayor vetoes Assembly action in latest transparency row

A gray concrete building labeled Eklutna Power Plant along a snowy road
The Eklutna Power Plant, pictured here on March 1, 2024, is located on the Old Glenn Highway along the Knik River. Water from Eklutna Lake is piped to the plant, where enough electricity is generated to power about 25,000 Anchorage and Mat-Su homes. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Another skirmish over government transparency and dueling authorities is heating up between the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson. 

In the latest exchange, the Assembly adopted a resolution last week to subpoena an agreement that the administration signed in October without the Assembly’s or the public’s involvement. And then Tuesday, the mayor vetoed that resolution.

The agreement has to do with the future of rights to water that collects in Eklutna Lake. The city sources about 90% of its drinking water from Eklutna Lake. About 25,000 Anchorage and Mat-Su homes also rely on water from the lake for cheap, zero-carbon emission electricity generated through the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, which is jointly owned by the city, Chugach Electric Association and Matanuska Electric Association. 

In his veto letter, Bronson said his administration has already privately shared and discussed the agreement with the Assembly, but maintains that it is confidential and cannot be made public without opening the city up to a breach of contract lawsuit with the other parties to the agreement. 

“Why are Assembly members spending taxpayer dollars for their attorneys to subpoena documents they already have access to?” Bronson wrote. “These threatening subpoenas are nothing more than scare tactics to bully municipal employees into potentially breaching municipal contracts.”

Bronson said he and the Assembly are both bound to confidentiality under a related agreement made during Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration in 2017.

Last week, Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel gave two reasons for subpoenaing the agreement. One: So the Assembly could share a copy with its own lawyers working on a possible lawsuit against the administration for ignoring the city’s official policy on the future of the Eklutna River. And two: So the Assembly and its lawyers could discuss potential public disclosure of the agreement without the administration’s lawyers in the room.

Zaletel, an attorney herself, said she heard the municipal attorney’s reasoning for why it should stay confidential.

“I don’t feel like it’s sufficient, especially since prior agreements around how we access water, the 1984 agreement, was a public document and subject to our approval,” she said. “I believe we need to be transparent about it.” 

Assembly member Karen Bronga was one of four members to vote against the subpoena resolution. 

“This sort of seems like chest puffing to subpoena people to come in,” she said. “I’m not feeling good about that.”

Scott Myers, Randy Sulte and outgoing member Kevin Cross also voted no. 

With eight members voting yes last week, the Assembly appears to have the supermajority to override the mayor’s veto.

Bronson announced his veto on the city’s Election Day. He is running for a second term in office.

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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