Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Bronson wins lawsuit against Assembly over separation of powers in firing decisions

Anchorage Assembly

An Alaska Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration in a lawsuit against the city Assembly over the mayor’s right to fire a city official without Assembly involvement.

In 2020, the Assembly passed an ordinance creating the city’s first chief equity officer position. The city code included the stipulation that the official could be “dismissed by the mayor only for cause shown, and only with the concurrence of a majority of the Assembly.”

In a Thursday judgment, Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby wrote the ordinance is “invalid because it conflicts with the Charter provision granting the mayor removal power of municipal department heads, and the ordinance violates the separation of powers provisions of the Charter.”

Bronson fired the city’s first chief equity officer, Clifford Armstrong III, in October, and Assembly leadership said they did not recognize his dismissal as complete or valid. Armstrong was appointed by former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in April of 2021.

Bronson then sued the Assembly, saying that the ordinance violates the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of city government. Typically, executive-level positions are appointed by the mayor and serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

Bronson contended that as mayor, he has the authority to fire any position appointed by the mayor per a section of municipal charter, which states that states that any “persons appointed by the mayor serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

“The ordinance the Assembly passed is a clear violation of my authority and executive powers,” Bronson said in a written statement. “Since the beginning of my administration, this Assembly has consistently infringed on the executive branch’s authority and purview. I applaud the Superior Court for their ruling protecting separations of powers and preventing the assembly’s repeated, autocratic overreaches of power.”

The chief equity officer is tasked with implementing the city’s equity agenda and oversees the Office of Equity and Justice.

In the lawsuit, the administration contended that the Office of Equity and Justice, headed by the chief equity officer position, is a municipal department. The Assembly disputed that, saying it was created as an office separate from mayoral administrations.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant in a separate statement said he is disappointed in the ruling, but that the court’s decision did not say that the city can never create a for-cause firing protection or a term-of-office stipulation for the head of a municipal office.

Instead, the court said that it can’t do so when the office is placed in municipal organization as a city department, he said.

“This is a very narrow ruling specific to a certain section of the code and now that the Court has issued their interpretation, we have a definitive direction to go in when it’s time to correct this oversight in the future,” Constant said.

The scuffle over the chief equity officer position also resulted in another lawsuit. Armstrong III sued the city over his firing, claiming it was a wrongful dismissal by the mayor. He was awarded $125,000 in a settlement.

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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