City and state officials disagree whether state employees are exempt from the Anchorage mask mandate

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson sent a memorandum to all state employees on Friday, saying they are exempt from the Anchorage mask mandate while working in state office buildings. On Monday, the municipal attorney said Clarkson’s advice is wrong.

Kate Vogel, the Municipality of Anchorage’s top attorney, wrote a statement saying that “the Attorney General’s memo sows confusion and unnecessarily risks the health and safety of Anchorage residents who do business with or work for state agencies.”

According to Vogel’s legal advice, the Anchorage mayor can require state employees to wear face masks while working as Anchorage is a “home rule” municipality under Alaska law.

“The legislature has not acted to restrict Anchorage’s authority with respect to issuing mask mandates, nor has it exempted state-owned buildings from generally applicable local health and safety rules,” Vogel said. “The Attorney General’s memo also puts State of Alaska employees in legal jeopardy by giving them inaccurate legal advice.”

Jeff Turner, the governor’s communications director, wrote by email Monday afternoon clarifying that “the memo was drafted at the request of the Governor.

“His administration has always allowed local governments, in consultation with the state, the ability to implement health mandates based on the circumstances in a community. Municipal health mandates and codes apply to state buildings and facilities. In this case, the Governor decided to preempt the municipal mandatory mask mandate for state buildings and facilities in the Municipality of Anchorage.”

Turner also wrote that the governor continues to strongly encourage Alaskans to wear face masks in public places, and that they should practice good hand washing and social distancing.

“While face masks remain voluntary, state departments have implemented a wide range of preventative measures to protect members of the public and employees while still allowing the essential functions of state government to continue,” Turner said. “I would also point out that many state workers are still working from home and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

Earlier in the month, over 200 physicians wrote a letter to the governor, urging him to impose a face mask mandate across Alaska.

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