Public watchdog reacts to Assembly legislation on audience participation

Eugene Carl Haberman addresses the Anchorage Assembly Dec. 2018.
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The proposed ordinance failed with a vote of 9-1, with Assembly member Christopher Constant being the lone yes vote.

A self-proclaimed public watchdog is concerned that a new ordinance by the Anchorage Assembly will infringe on his right to speak.

If you’ve ever been to a public meeting in Anchorage or the Mat-Su Valley, you’ve probably heard Eugene Carl Haberman speak. He always begins testimony with the same trademark lines:

“I follow the public process. When the public process is done appropriately, the decisions made by the governing body is more likely to be in the public interest.”

Haberman is hyper-vigilante, insistent, that his local governments adhere to process at public meetings, as outlined by Municipal and Borough Codes. He’s made it his life’s work to maintain the balance and ensure the public has a chance to participate.

“Morning, day, and night, I'm committed to this situation,” Haberman said. “It’s my work, I believe, to try to make a situation where the public has a fair chance — that their voice is heard before government makes a decision.”

However noble Haberman’s intentions may be, his relentless persistence has become somewhat of an issue for the Anchorage Assembly. As one of his last pieces of legislation, retired Assembly member Dick Traini authored an ordinance amending Municipal Code around public appearances to “improve efficiency and facilitation of Municipal business items.”

Assembly members Christopher Constant and John Weddleton commented on the merits of the ordinance, as it pertains to Haberman.

“While the public may come for a public hearing on a specific item, he (Haberman) comes and testifies on multiple items every single night — sometimes as many as 10 or 15 items,” Constant added that each comment period lasts three minutes, and that time quickly adds up.

In addition to the time taken up by Haberman’s testimony, Weddleton says It’s often unrelated to the legislation being considered.

“At Assembly meetings, he will kind of wait in the back, and he tries to be the last one to speak on many of the issues — up to 10 on a night,” Weddleton said. “And he'll talk about public process, but often it's aspects that aren't really connected to the issue that we're discussing.”

Issues of efficiency aside, Haberman says he’s concerned about the constitutional repercussions of such an ordinance.

“This ordinance would make it illegal for the public to address policies and procedures during a public hearing,” Haberman said.

“The Assembly has certain rules by which it must conduct its business. The individuals on the Assembly have to speak germainly about the matter before them,” Constant said. “And it seems like the public should also be asked to have the same general process as well, which is 'Let’s talk about the matter before us.’”

Even if the legislation does curtail Haberman’s contributions to meetings, Weddleton acknowledges the relative importance of his work to maintain a balance on the public process.

“In general, his message is important. Someone should watch the public process and make sure it's done properly at all the different levels,” Weddleton said. “He’s clearly obsessive, but i don't know who else would do it, unless you have someone who's just wired a little different.”

At a meeting in early Dec. 2018, Haberman made a promise to the Anchorage Assembly.

“I’ll still be here, and I’ll still raise those issues,” Haberman said, to a polite “Thank you, Mr. Haberman.”

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