Deputy city clerk fired in Anchorage election aftermath

Michelle Theriault Boots,Kyle Hopkins

Anchorage Assembly chairman Ernie Hall fired a key planner in the troubled April 3 election Wednesday, though the city clerk responsible for overseeing the election remains on the job.

Hall said he told deputy clerk Jacqueline Duke she was being dismissed Wednesday. The city clerk and deputy clerk are among the employees who serve at the will of the Assembly.

Hall made the decision to remove Duke himself but had been talking with other assembly members about it, he said.

The city clerk's office oversees elections and came under fire this year after ballots ran out at more than half of all voting precincts on April 3.

On Tuesday, the assembly voted to pay a retired judge $35,000 to investigate what went wrong and recommend ways to avoid similar problems in the future.

Duke was instrumental in planning the election. Her boss, municipal clerk Barbara Gruenstein, was not fired.

Hall did not say why he removed Duke but not Gruenstein.

"I'm not going into that," he said.

Hall said Duke's dismissal was not based on the chaotic election alone. He refused to say what other issues precipitated her removal.

"She has a lot of fine qualities," he said. "We just needed to make a change at the deputy clerk's office."

Duke will be paid until the end of the month. The position will eventually be replaced through an open hiring process, Hall said.

"We had a breakdown in the clerk's office," he said. "What happened in the election is absolutely not solely the deputy clerk's problem."

A review by the city Election Commission found that city employees were "stretched thin" during the elections process. "The burden of additional workload placed undue pressure and stress on staff, allowing details to be overlooked," the report said.

The commission recommended the city clerk "takes a more active role in strategic planning, supervising ballot ordering, training of staff and general oversight." The panel also called for a restructuring of city elections staff, including the hire of an election coordinator.

The city has not had an employee dedicated primarily to election-related tasks since the departure of former elections coordinator Guadalupe Marroquin in 2009, Assembly members say.

Duke, the deputy clerk, absorbed at least some of those election-planning tasks.

Gruenstein has said she talked with her staff about the possibility of high voter turnout in advance of the city election, due to a fractious gay rights question on the ballot, but wasn't involved in deciding details like how many ballots should be sent to each precinct.

"I knew it was going to be high (turnout). I did not get into the level of detail that, in hindsight, I wish I had," Gruenstein said at an April 13 city meeting on the election troubles.

According to Duke's open Facebook page, she worked as a franchise training coordinator for Chili's Grill & Bar before becoming a licensing clerk at the municipality in 2006. She wrote that she had worked as a constituent relations specialist for Mayor Dan Sullivan briefly in 2009 and had been deputy municipal clerk since September of that year.

Duke made about $82,000 a year, according to Dave Brossard, a records tech in the city's employee relations department. Gruenstein is paid about $117,000.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.

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