Bronson administration defends qualifications of Anchorage library director appointee ahead of confirmation vote

With her confirmation vote scheduled for Tuesday, Anchorage Assembly members are questioning the qualifications of Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointee to serve as library director.

Sami Graham unsuccessfully ran for Anchorage School Board Seat E earlier this year and has worked as a teacher, counselor and principal in public and private schools in Anchorage — most recently at Grace Christian School as principal — but does not have a degree in library science.

Municipality director of human resources Niki Tshibaka introduced Graham during a confirmation hearing Friday, noting her nomination has been “subject to some controversy” but said that she is “eminently qualified” for the job.

Graham’s two master’s degrees, which are in educational leadership and in science in counseling, will “bring a more holistic and effective approach to advancing our library’s mission than would a bunch of folks with the same degree and similar experiences,” Tshibaka said.

The position has minimum qualifications, including a master’s degree in library science and seven years of professional library experience.

However, Tshibaka disputed that the qualifications were binding.

“I have been advised by our legal department that the mayor is not bound by the minimum qualifications for this particular position,” Tshibaka said.

Tshibaka referenced Anchorage Municipal Code Section 3.30.024D, which says other combinations of experience “may be qualifying if deemed equivalent.”

For a short stint, Graham was part of a conservative slate of candidates for school board before the group dissolved. When she was in the school board race, she wanted the Anchorage School District to focus on reopening schools.

The Alaska Library Association, a nonprofit advocating for the state’s libraries, submitted a letter to the Assembly expressing concerns about Graham’s appointment.

“The appointment of an individual who does not meet the qualifications defined in the position description is comparable to the appointment of a police or fire chief without any prior police or firefighting training or experience,” the executive council wrote.

Assembly member John Weddleton said Friday the Assembly has received many public comments about her nomination.

“We’ve gotten a lot of emails — as you know, that you don’t meet the qualifications — which is what is often stated,” Weddleton said to Graham.

Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia at Friday’s confirmation hearing told Graham he was “still confused as to how (she is) qualified.”

“Your background is primarily being the principal of an elementary school,” Perez-Verdia said. “I guess what I’m wondering is that this just seems like a much larger job and a much different job than anything you’ve ever done in the past.”

Graham responded, saying she was born and raised in Anchorage, which “is a wealth... that other people wouldn’t have.” She also said her experience “compliments” the current library staff and “helps fill in some of the gaps.”

“My background and my expertise and my leadership experience is just different,” Graham said. “It’s not lesser than someone with a master’s of library science, it’s just different.”

During the hearing, Graham said she reached out to Bronson “when they were seeking people to help with the new administration.”

“I think I wrote a one-line email that said, ‘I’m willing to help in any way you need me,’ " Graham said.

If confirmed, Graham’s salary would be $121,825.60 per year.

Graham isn’t the only Bronson nominee receiving pushback.

His appointed health department director, David Morgan, resigned earlier this month after being questioned over his qualifications and comments he made about the pandemic. He resigned before a confirmation vote.

Assembly member Chris Constant also expressed concerns over Dan Zipay earlier this week, the newest director of Solid Waste Services.

Samantha Davenport

Samantha Davenport is a former ADN reporter.