Mat-Su Borough Assembly not seeking to impose a mask mandate

“The Matanuska-Susitna Borough does not have the power to institute a general public mask mandate,” Spiropoulos said in a Nov. 20 email to the Watchman. “There are only three ways the Borough could get this power. The first way is a grant of power from the Legislature because the Legislature gets to say how much power a borough has under Art 10, Sec. 3 of the Alaska Constitution. The second way to get a power is a transfer of power from the cities. A third way to get a power is have the question approved by voters. These second and third methods are found in state statute AS 29.35.300. The Attorney General of the State of Alaska has no ability to grant a second-class borough any power and/or grant ‘approval to impose a mask mandate.’”

Earlier this summer, at the Aug. 4 Borough Assembly meeting, Spiropoulos gave a detailed analysis on why he did not believe the Mat-Su Borough had powers to govern public health.

Spiropoulos explained to Assembly members that the only additional powers it has during a disaster is with regard to housing and urban redevelopment, which basically means the Mat-Su Borough can rebuild damaged infrastructure after a declared state or federal disaster. Even then, however, the law does not grant the borough extra health powers, to impose mask mandates. This applies even during a pandemic.

“When it comes down to it, we are a second-class borough,” he said in August. “The citizens voted for a limited form of government with limited powers and the state statutes have limitations on how we can either gain additional powers or exercise the powers we have.”

All other municipalities and cities in Alaska do have health powers, but not second-class boroughs like the Mat-Su, Spiropoulos added.

Despite the opinion of Spiropoulos and other attorneys from second-class boroughs, Acting Attorney General Sniffen recently stated that he believes second-class boroughs do, in fact, have health powers to impose mask mandates and other health restrictions.

“Even with that approval, I disagree with them saying the Borough can do it, and have signed on to a letter telling the Acting Attorney General that I (along with others) disagree,” Spiropoulos told the Watchman. “If we get a response, perhaps we will get some legal analysis on why he thinks the power exists.”

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