Anchorage

Anchorage’s first chief equity officer settles lawsuit against Bronson administration

Equity officer Clifford Armstrong III

Anchorage’s first chief equity officer has reached a settlement in his lawsuit against the city.

Clifford Armstrong III sued the city after Mayor Dave Bronson fired him in October. Armstrong claimed in the lawsuit that he was wrongfully fired and that the municipality violated city code and committed breach of contract.

Armstrong said in a statement Friday that he “became entangled in a larger political and legal dispute related to the Chief Equity Officer position.”

“I am happy with this settlement as it removes me from that dispute,” he said.

Jeffrey Robinson, an attorney representing Armstrong, said the settlement amount was $125,000 and declined to provide further comment.

Bronson wished Armstrong “all the best in his future endeavors,” according to the statement released Friday. Bronson’s communications director Corey Allen Young said in a text message that the settlement “doesn’t allow (the mayor’s office) to speak beyond the statement.”

The Bronson’s administration filed a separate lawsuit against the city Assembly last month over the mayor’s right to fire a city official without involvement from the body.

[No-shows by Bronson officials at meetings leads to dispute between Assembly members and municipal manager]

The Assembly created the chief equity officer position in 2020, 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.”

The administration wants the court to rule that it was a violation of the separation of powers outlined in the Alaska Constitution and municipal charter for the Assembly to create the chief equity officer position but constrain the mayor’s ability to fire whomever is serving in it at his discretion.

Armstrong was hired by former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson and was confirmed by the Assembly in April of last year. Assembly leadership said in October that Bronson’s firing of Armstrong was in 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.

In his lawsuit, Armstrong had asked the court to declare the Assembly’s ordinance valid and that the city must reinstate him in the chief equity officer position. He had also asked 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.

The mayor named Uluao “Junior” Aumavae as his new appointee for the position. Aumavae was born in American Samoa and grew up in Anchorage, according to the mayor’s office. He worked recently in Alaska as a community outreach specialist with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Aumavae has not yet been confirmed by the Assembly, according to Assembly vice chair Christopher Constant.

Armstrong has said he believes his report on the city’s affirmative action plan was among several reasons he was fired. That report found the city had failed to meet its hiring and promotion goals for people with disabilities, veterans, people of color and women.

The Assembly created the city’s Office of Equity and Justice, with the chief equity officer position at the helm, in 2020 as protests against police brutality and systemic racism were happening across the nation. The formation of the new office and position was a proposal from former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Assembly created the chief equity officer position last summer. It was created in August 2020.


Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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