Anchorage Mayor-elect Dave Bronson on Tuesday announced two more members of his transition team, one who will be in charge of developing Bronson’s homelessness strategy and another who will review the city’s budget.
Cheryl Frasca, a longtime local fiscal policy official who has served at the city and state levels, will lead Bronson’s budget review team. Dr. John Morris, a local anesthesiologist, will lead the homelessness team. Bronson made the announcement during a live press conference on Tuesday, calling Frasca and Morris “highly qualified.”
Bronson said his team will be focused on creating “cost effective government” and developing a homelessness management program to create “long-term measurable results to reduce the number of people living on our streets and in the homeless camps across our city.”
The transition team will form two new committees under Frasca and Morris to focus on the city’s budget and homelessness crisis, according to a written statement from Bronson.
“Making sure we maintain budget discipline and aggressively addressing homelessness are two of my highest priorities,” Bronson said. “I’m very pleased Cheryl and John will be leading those efforts to revitalize our community and restore conservative governance to Anchorage.”
Frasca is a former director of the state Office of Management and Budget, working under the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski. She has twice directed Anchorage’s Office of Management and Budget, during the administrations of former mayors George Wuerch and Dan Sullivan.
She sits on Commonwealth North’s board as co-chair of its Fiscal Policy Study Group and has been involved in state and local fiscal policy issues for over 40 years, according to a statement about Frasca provided by Axiom Strategies, a Kansas-based Republican political consulting firm assisting with Bronson’s communications.
“Over the next few weeks here we’ll be reviewing the current operating and capital budgets to develop recommendations for revisions and potential changes that may be necessary to ensure that Anchorage maintains a strong bond rating and is in compliance with the voter-mandated property tax cap,” Bronson said.
He said his team is “evaluating potential organizational changes,” streamlining “internal and external processes,” and “conducting a comprehensive review of all executive positions.”
Last week Bronson announced longtime Alaska Republican players Larry Baker and Craig Campbell as his transition team leaders and said he would institute a hiring freeze in city’s municipal government.
He also released a transition plan that includes “vagrancy and homelessness” as a key area of review. Morris, a relatively new player in Anchorage’s political scene, will head that review.
He is an anesthesiologist working in an Anchorage private practice who moved to the city in 2015, according to the statement provided by Axiom.
Morris attended Wake Forest University and later the University of Pennsylvania for anesthesia residency. He worked first as a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at West Virginia University before entering private practice and coming to Anchorage.
His LinkedIn profile lists him as president of Denali Anesthesia.
“Dr. Morris is an esteemed local physician dedicated to providing compassionate, efficient sheltering and treatment for our homeless population,” Bronson said.
Axiom Strategies and Bronson’s transition team did not respond to emailed questions about Morris’ experience in relation to homelessness and social services.
“Dr. Morris is passionate about this issue,” Bronson said during the news conference. “He could have done anything to help our city. He picked this issue because it probably fits the best ... fits his ethos in providing a sustained health care for people most in need that’s what he’s dedicated his life to. Once we saw his plan as it unfolded, we really kind of came to like it.”
Bronson and Morris did not provide details of that plan during Tuesday’s announcement.
Morris, who spoke briefly, said he is currently meeting with homeless service providers to find out what is working and what help they need that the city could provide. He said his plan to help the homeless in Anchorage will not be revealed to the public until it is finished.
“Partnership for us is a serious real thing. We’re consulting and we’re talking to people on frankly both sides of the political aisle and were taking their ideas and when they’re good we put them in our plan,” Morris said. “When we get done we’ll get back to you.”
Bronson, during his campaign for mayor, described a section of the homeless population as “vagrants” — people who he described as living problematically on the streets and committing crimes. Bronson has said that homeless people who commit crimes should be dealt with primarily through law enforcement and jail.
On Tuesday he said that law enforcement is just one aspect of his overall homelessness plan.
“We’ve got to encourage people to not live on our streets anymore after we’ve provided the shelter space that we’re required to provide them,” Bronson said. “And yes law enforcement will take a front seat on one portion of the overall homelessness issue.”
The Anchorage Assembly is currently considering two ordinances that would change how the city handles homeless shelters: a land use change that would expand where homeless shelters could be located in the city, and a possible licensing requirement for shelters that seeks to regulate their impacts on neighborhoods.
Bronson said he spoke with Assembly Chair Felix Rivera on Monday about the possible ordinances and said he does not yet have a position on the changes. Bronson opposed a similar proposed land use change last summer that was shelved.
The Assembly is holding two town halls on the issues this week, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday at the Dena’ina Center.
“We’re just waiting to see what comes of that before we make any decisions,” Bronson said. “I think in a lot of ways, Mr. Rivera and I are on the same page.”
Rivera said that Bronson and the Assembly do share a common goal — ensuring that no person experiencing homelessness dies unsheltered this winter.
“Definitely the goal we have is similar, but the Bronson transition team has yet to release any further details yet and I understand they’re still figuring things out,” Rivera said.
Still, “the devil is in the details, so I’m waiting to see his details,” Rivera said.