Anchorage

Former Anchorage chief equity officer sues city over his firing

Anchorage’s first chief equity officer, fired by Mayor Dave Bronson last month, is suing the city, claiming he was wrongfully fired and that the municipality violated city code and committed a breach of contract.

Clifford Armstrong III was hired by the former acting mayor and confirmed by the Assembly in April. Armstrong filed a lawsuit against the city Tuesday.

Assembly leadership has also said that Bronson’s firing of Armstrong is a violation of city code because the mayor fired Armstrong without the consent of the Assembly and without cause. The mayor’s office has said Armstrong’s firing is allowed under the city charter.

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The Assembly created the chief equity officer position last summer, passing an ordinance with a section of municipal code that says the chief equity officer “may be dismissed by the mayor only for cause shown, and only with the concurrence of a majority of the Assembly.”

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and Vice Chair Chris Constant have called Armstrong’s firing illegal.

The mayor’s office claims that the ordinance that created the chief equity officer position violates the city’s charter and the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of city government.

In a letter sent to the Assembly on Monday, Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt said that the chief equity officer, like other executives, serves at the pleasure of the mayor and “can be dismissed for any reason or no reason at all.”

Bergt cited a section of municipal charter that says, “The mayor shall appoint all heads of municipal departments, subject to confirmation by the assembly, on the basis of professional qualifications. Persons appointed by the mayor serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

In the lawsuit, Armstrong asks the court to declare that the Assembly’s ordinance is valid and legally binding and that the city must reinstate him in the chief equity officer position.

He is also asking for compensatory damages such as back pay and benefits and that the city pay his attorney’s fees.

Armstrong was responsible for developing, supporting and implementing the city’s equity agenda, including working with the mayor’s office and other city departments and agencies to advocate for equitable policies, diversity and inclusion. He was paid a salary of just over $115,000.

Bronson and the city are also being sued by Anchorage’s former real estate director, Christina Hendrickson, who Bronson fired in September. Hendrickson claims that her firing was retaliatory after she filed a whistleblower’s complaint against the administration.

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