In a unanimous vote, the Anchorage Assembly confirmed Mayor Dave Bronson’s appointment of Uluao “Junior” Aumavae to the city’s chief equity officer position, despite an ongoing lawsuit between the administration and Assembly over the position.
The Assembly chambers erupted in applause and cheers following the 10-0 vote Tuesday night that confirmed the Alaska-raised Aumavae in a position heading the city’s new Office of Equity and Justice. (Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson was absent for the vote.)
The chief equity officer oversees efforts to build diversity, equity and inclusion and strengthen community connections in Anchorage’s government and across the city.
Aumavae was born in American Samoa and grew up in Anchorage, attending East Anchorage High School and Palmer High School. He is a former football player, with stints on the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets, among other teams.
Many people in the Assembly chambers wore leis during the confirmation discussion and vote, including the mayor, several Assembly members and Aumavae himself.
Bronson appointed Aumavae to the position in October, immediately after firing the city’s last chief equity officer Clifford Armstrong III, who was hired by the former acting mayor and confirmed by the Assembly last year.
Assembly leadership asserted that because the mayor fired Armstrong without Assembly consent, his firing was a violation of city code. Armstrong’s firing resulted in two separate lawsuits.
The mayor’s office is suing the Assembly over the mayor’s right to fire a city official without Assembly consent. Litigation in that lawsuit is ongoing. Armstrong also sued the city after his firing, settling the lawsuit for $125,000.
Assembly leadership had proposed postponing Aumavae’s confirmation until after the lawsuit between the mayor and the body is resolved. But at Tuesday’s meeting, several Assembly members instead advocated for confirming Aumavae.
Member John Weddleton, speaking in support of Aumavae, said he sees the lawsuit and Aumavae’s confirmation in the position as separate issues.
“I don’t think one has to wait for the other,” Weddleton said. Aumavae had already been working as acting chief equity officer for several months, he said.
Several other members — and the mayor — agreed.
“The Assembly and I have had our differences regarding the chief equity officer position, but the ongoing legal matters between us have absolutely no bearing on Junior’s employment with the muni, his current position as chief equity officer, and his ability to be confirmed here tonight,” Bronson said.
Aumavae said he will focus on finding solutions to community and equity issues “not only with the Assembly, the mayor, but also with the people.”
He said his biggest goal is to leave Anchorage better so that when he leaves the position, “the legacy continues.”
“The change continues. The impact continues to pave the way not only for Anchorage, but also for Alaska and the rest of the nation,” Aumavae said.
Many people attended the meeting to show support for Aumavae, including Lucy Hansen, CEO of the Polynesian Association of Alaska, and leaders from the Korean American Community of Anchorage and Anchorage’s Tongan community.
“Finally we have a voice in our city of Anchorage,” Hansen said. “And we thank God for that opportunity because it’s not just a Samoan that we’re talking about. We should have an opportunity for all of our diversity, people all of our types of diversity, culture, to have a voice in our city.”