The drawn-out battle over the city’s divisive labor law overhaul brought attorneys for the municipality and the Anchorage Assembly to court Friday, to resolve a question over the mayor’s veto power.
The labor ordinance known as AO-37 passed the Anchorage Assembly in March, setting new rules for figuring out pay and seniority for city union employees, removing the union’s right to strike, and opening up some city services to private contractors.
A pro-union petition drive survived a court battle of its own to collect over 22,000 signatures and put the fate of the labor ordinance in front of voters. In October Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed a 6-5 vote by the Anchorage Assembly that set an April date for that vote.
The question faced by Superior Court Judge Erin Marston on Friday was a question of what the mayor can and cannot veto, especially when that veto affects an election date set by the Anchorage Assembly.
The Anchorage Assembly is accusing Mayor Dan Sullivan of violating the city charter with his October veto.
Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler says the city charter gives the mayor broad veto powers which have been in place since the city and borough of Anchorage merged nearly 40 years ago.
“The last time this went to court was in 2001," said Wheeler. “That was the first chance for the court to weigh in on how you look at the mayor’s veto compared to other provisions in the charter. And that's the case where the court said the mayor's veto power is sweeping."
Anchorage Assembly attorney Timothy Petumenos disagreed, arguing that the mayor has no veto power over when and how the assembly sets election dates.
"The Assembly is the entity charged with administering elections," said Petumenos. "Elections are special, elections are important, and our system placed the responsibility for running elections in eleven people, not one."
Both sides are asking the judge for an expedited ruling in the case. The deadline to finalize the April ballot is January 28th.