The Anchorage Assembly has postponed until at least Friday its vote to confirm Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointed Health Department director so members can discuss recent accusations about his behavior in workplaces.
The Assembly had been scheduled to vote on Joe Gerace’s appointment during its Tuesday night meeting. Members instead voted to hold a meeting on Friday to take up the personnel concerns in an executive session. A time for the meeting has not yet been determined.
Bronson appointed Gerace to the position of Anchorage Health Department director in September. Gerace is a former firefighter, paramedic and Red Cross disaster responder, and recently worked as director of operations for Visit Healthcare, the city’s provider of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
On Tuesday, the Assembly received several emails from people who said they have worked with Gerace and accused him of retaliatory behavior toward employees, sexism toward female employees, lack of professionalism and decorum, and creating a demoralizing working environment, among other accusations.
The Daily News obtained copies of three of the emails urging the Assembly to reject Gerace’s appointment. Two are from people who said they worked with Gerace at Visit Healthcare, and one is an anonymous email from a person who claimed they are a current Health Department employee.
During the meeting, Human Resources Director Niki Tshibaka said the emails are inaccurate and an attempt at character assassination.
“We have plenty of evidence to share with the public and with the Assembly. He is not afraid to address the issues that have been raised head-on because they are false. They are inaccurate and they are a pure character assassination,” Tshibaka said.
As Health Department director, Gerace is overseeing a staff of about 130 and a $14.7 million budget. The department is responsible for the city’s COVID-19 response, including overseeing vaccine distribution and virus testing. The city also recently shifted the oversight of its mass care operations and the shelter at Sullivan Arena to the Health Department.
Assembly member John Weddleton said one of the emails with concerns about Gerace came from someone he knows, and he trusts there is “some truth or honesty in it.” Still, he urged the Assembly to vote on Gerace’s confirmation immediately.
“The health department is dealing with so many critical issues. We need someone who is in charge, is recognized as being in charge to take charge,” Weddleton said.
Members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy, who generally support the mayor’s policies and appointments, also urged the Assembly to take up the matter immediately in an executive session Tuesday night, but a majority of members voted to set another meeting for Friday.
Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said she’s been impressed with Gerace’s work ethic so far, but that it’s the Assembly’s duty to to look into possible issues in order to protect Anchorage residents.
“We received some pretty serious emails today from a variety of people that gave me pause, despite that good relationship or sort of good record that I see in public,” she said.
Bronson’s previous pick for Health Department director, David Morgan, resigned in August just before his confirmation vote after intense scrutiny from the Assembly over his qualifications and comments about the pandemic.
The Assembly has confirmed the majority of Bronson’s executive appointments but has rejected two, citing qualification concerns. In August, the Assembly refused to confirm Bronson’s first choice for library director, Sami Graham, saying she failed to meet minimum qualifications for the position. She is now his chief of staff. Last month the Assembly narrowly rejected Bronson’s choice for city real estate director, Jim Winegarner.