Why in the world?
The Anchorage Assembly is busy divvying up the city’s new 5 percent retail alcohol tax, which goes into effect Feb. 1.
The levy is expected to rake in somewhere between $12 million to $13 million a year that would be spent in three general areas: public safety and first responders; child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence; and, mental health, substance misuse and homelessness.
Tucked away safely in all that bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo is our late, disgraced Mayor’s Ethan Berkowitz’s Office of Equity and Justice, which is to further move the city toward “becoming a more welcoming and inclusive community.”
“The Chief Equity Officer will be responsible for proactively working to advance equity, focusing on eliminating inequities and increasing well being and success for all residents,” Berkowitz says in a memorandum accompanying the ordinance creating the office.
The memo contains a lengthy laundry list of duties, many sounding like bureaucratic gibberish, for the new chief equity officer. For instance, he or she would “establish baseline equity data targets/benchmarks in collaboration with partners and establish goals and initiatives to make progress and processes to track outcomes” and “develop methods to determine how disparate impacts will be documented and evaluated” and “collect, evaluate, and analyze indicators and progress benchmarks related to addressing systemic disparities.”
Good grief. How did this city ever get along without an equity officer? Berkowitz maintained there is a crying need for such an office because the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed “persistent structural inequities that have required municipal response to mitigate the disproportionate social determinants of health and equity facing people of color and low-income residents.”
He is not alone in saying there is a need for such an office.
“If we ever want to see meaningful improvements in any one of those areas, public safety, alcohol use disorders, homelessness, all of them, we have to address the race-based disparities that are playing part in it,” Tiffany Hall, Recover Alaska’s executive director, told KTUU. Recover Alaska, if you will recall, is a coalition of groups instrumental in passing the ordinance.
It was slapped on the wrist and fined $4,312 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for its actions during the April election that got the ordinance passed. It was charged with failing to register timely with APOC as a “person,” failure to file required independent expenditure reports in the 2020 Anchorage city election, and failure to provide a full and complete paid-for-by identifier on its communications.
Prior to the election, the nonprofit polled Anchorage voters to discover what messages would get them to support an alcohol tax, then it worked to persuade voters and have them return their mail-in ballots. It also gave the campaign’s public face, “Yes for a Safe, Healthy Anchorage,” at least $70,000 of the nearly $250,000 it received in contributions. There also were Facebook and radio ads.
All this leaves us more than a little curious. If Anchorage already has the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, the Ombudsman Office and the Resilience Subcabinet, whatever that is, what is the need for a new, expensive, ill-defined Office of Equity? Oh, then there is the Alaska State Human Rights Commission and private nonprofit organizations such as the Alaska Institute for Justice.
There are plenty of ways to enforce equity in this city. A cynic might believe creation of the office is a political payoff, or a way to hire a buddy, or some other tit-for-tat scheme at taxpayers’ expense. At its best, it is empire building. At its worst? Another layer of bureaucratic malaise. We already have all the leftist, bureaucratic muscle we need in this city.
Looking at it, we are willing to bet the cynic may be right.