Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly member introduces legislation to codify process to remove mayor from office

The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to consider a measure that would add to city code a process for removing the mayor from office for a “breach of the public trust.”

Some of Mayor Dave Bronson’s supporters say they see the proposal as a direct attack on the mayor.

Assembly leaders said there is no effort afoot to remove Bronson from office. Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant, who proposed the code changes, said he doesn’t intend to use the ordinance if it passes, but said he believes that the mayor needs “clear bumpers on the boundaries of his power.”

“I’m not trying to remove the mayor. But what I’m trying to do is put in the code, a tool so that the mayor can understand that he can’t simply ignore the code, the law, the practices — which I believe he’s been doing in a substantive way since he got into office,” Constant said.

Right now, outside of regular elections, mayors can only be removed through recall. The ordinance would not affect the public’s ability to recall a mayor.

Constant said he decided to draft the ordinance after the Bronson administration did not implement the Assembly-approved city budget earlier this year, which Constant said he believes was an “illegal stretch of executive authority over the legislative power.” Other Assembly members have also called the administration’s move to initially use its own budget illegal and unprecedented. Bronson officials have since used the Assembly’s approved city budget. Because the Assembly used its own revenue projections in the budget, the administration could not “proceed to spend money that it was uncertain would materialize,” a spokesman for the mayor’s office said.

The mayor’s spokesman on Monday declined to comment on the ordinance or Constant’s statements, saying only that “Mayor Bronson firmly believes in the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.”

The mayor’s office will not comment on the matter until the ordinance is formally introduced, he said. It is on the agenda for introduction at the Assembly’s Tuesday meeting.

Assembly member Randy Sulte said he is against the ordinance, and said he believes elected officials should be removed from office by the public via recall and the legal system for serious convictions such as felony charges.

“It’s a dangerous road we’re going down, that the Assembly would have that much power, especially how the Assembly is aligned politically right now. There’s a supermajority and very little that can be done to stop it,” Sulte said.

[Anchorage Mayor Bronson seeks audit, records on city election following complaints from conservative candidates]

Sulte was the only Bronson-supported candidate in the city election this year to successfully oust an incumbent Assembly member. The conservative mayor sought to unseat more incumbents in the Assembly’s moderate-to-liberal-leaning majority, but Anchorage voters rejected three other conservative candidates. That has left the city’s political dynamics relatively the same — with the mayor and Assembly majority often at odds.

Bronson and the Assembly have clashed over multiple issues since he took office last year, including conflict over who has the ultimate authority over city spending and power struggles over other issues. The Assembly, with an eight-vote supermajority, has voted to override nearly all of the mayor’s vetoes of city legislation so far.

Similar processes already exist in city code for removing members of the Assembly and school board. The ordinance would add specific steps for removing a mayor, as well as for officials elected to service area boards, for a breach of the public trust.

For the mayor’s office, a breach would consist of 13 different actions, including a “failure to faithfully execute the directives of a duly enacted ordinance,” a “substantial breach of a statutory, code or charter-imposed duty,” ordering or knowingly allowing an executive appointee or other city employee to “undertake an unlawful act,” and “actual or attempted official misconduct, as defined by state law,” among other actions.

The Assembly would hold a majority vote on grounds for removal, which would be reviewed by the municipal attorney or a third-party attorney hired by the Assembly for legal sufficiency. If sufficient, an agreed-upon hearing officer would conduct a hearing, evaluate any evidence and make a recommendation to the Assembly. The Assembly would then vote on removal, needing a two-thirds majority to unseat a mayor.

In addition to the city budget issue, some Assembly members, including Constant, have said they believe that Bronson broke city code when he ordered workers to halt fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply last year during a tour of a water treatment facility. The fluoride was turned off for a few hours, and the administration has said the action does not constitute a violation of code.

Anchorage’s charter states that the Assembly “shall establish procedures for removal of elected officials,” and in 1994, the Assembly established those for Assembly members and the school board, according to a memorandum accompanying the proposal. The passage of this proposal would finish laying the groundwork into code for removal of elected officials, Constant said.

After the ordinance is introduced on Tuesday, a public hearing on the item would not be held until the following meeting on May 24, unless the members postpone it to do further work on the ordinance. It’s also possible they could vote to scrap it entirely.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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