The Anchorage Assembly late Tuesday rejected Mayor Dave Bronson’s choice for municipal attorney, Mario Bird, while confirming two other Bronson appointees to head city departments.
Bird’s confirmation failed in an 8-4 vote. Three members often aligned with the Bronson administration — Jamie Allard, Randy Sulte and Kevin Cross — and Pete Petersen voted in favor of confirming Bird.
The eight Assembly members who voted against Bird’s confirmation are frequently at odds with the conservative Bronson administration over policies and approaches to key city issues. They include the Assembly’s leadership and make up a moderate-to-liberal majority, which usually includes Petersen.
Top executives for Anchorage city departments are chosen by the mayor but must be confirmed by a vote of the Assembly, according to city law.
Assembly members did not discuss or debate before the vote and did not speak publicly on Tuesday about their reasons for rejecting Bird. He has been serving as the city’s top legal adviser and attorney since the mayor appointed him in June, following the departure of Patrick Bergt.
Before the Assembly’s votes on Bronson’s chosen executives, Chair Suzanne LaFrance said that a leading principle of municipal law provides that “Assembly members must exercise their confirmation prerogative in good faith but need not provide reasons for refusing to confirm an appointee.”
The Assembly’s attorneys had conducted a review of its confirmation power, she said.
The “review of the Anchorage Municipal Charter, transcripts of the proceedings of the commission that produced the charter, background principles of municipal law and comparisons to similar state and federal provisions, all support the conclusion that the Assembly has broad discretion to confirm or to refuse to confirm mayoral appointees,” LaFrance said.
In 2020, Bird represented a group of Anchorage residents who sued the municipality and the Assembly for shutting down Assembly meetings to in-person participation under a COVID-19 emergency order by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. The city and the group, Alaskans for Open Meetings, reached a settlement in the lawsuit in April, under the Bronson administration.
In October 2021, on behalf of Assembly member Allard, Bird sent a letter to Providence Alaska Medical Center executives demanding a local conservative political activist be given ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19.
Bird has a history in conservative politics in Alaska. His father, Bob Bird, is a longtime anti-abortion activist known for his political talk radio show on KSRM in Kenai and is chairman of the Alaska Independence Party.
The Alaska Watchman, a conservative website, has described Bird as its “legal analyst,” and he has published several articles on the site. He has practiced law “on behalf of freedom and religious causes, including the Alliance Defending Freedom,” according to his brief biography on the site.
Also on Tuesday, the Assembly confirmed two other executives who Bronson had appointed alongside Bird: Courtney Petersen as leader of the Office of Management and Budget, and Michael Braniff as the Parks and Recreation Department’s director.
Bronson appointed Braniff to lead the department in late June. Days later, the administration abruptly began to direct and bus homeless people to live in the city’s Centennial Park Campground in East Anchorage as it was shutting down the mass shelter in Sullivan Arena.
In his new role, Braniff became a de facto manager of the sanctioned campground and has been responsible for overseeing the Parks and Recreation staff working at campground.