Former Anchorage Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said Tuesday she was fired by Mayor Dave Bronson, a day after Bronson abruptly announced she was no longer municipal manager without saying why.
In an interview, Demboski said Bronson fired her in retaliation after she sent him an email last week that detailed her concerns about Bronson and his officials violating city code, and concerns over gossip, harassment and a hostile work environment within his administration.
“It was retaliation. Pure and simple,” Demboski said.
At Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting, member Forrest Dunbar asked Bronson why Demboski had been let go. The mayor said it was “an HR matter” and would not comment.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office did not answer questions from the Daily News about Demboski’s account and the issues she outlined in her email, saying, “This is a personnel matter. We have no comment.”
The mayor’s office on Monday announced that Kent Kohlhase was taking over for Demboski immediately as acting municipal manager, and gave no reason for the sudden change. Bronson had appointed Kohlhase to be head of public works in November. Before that, Kohlhase served as the city’s director of project management and engineering.
Demboski said that on Monday morning, Bronson officials had offered her the option to resign with a letter of recommendation or to be terminated. She said she refused Bronson’s request for her to resign.
“I know I’ve done a good job. I know I didn’t do anything to be terminated for. The reality is, it’s because I articulated my concerns many times verbally — and now in writing. It was retaliation. Pure and simple,” Demboski said. “And, I understand, this is not an easy position to take, for me. It’s a principled position.”
“... I’m going to stand up and I’m going to tell the truth, no matter how difficult it may be for me. And again, I have no ill will,” she said. “I really have had a great time serving in this capacity. Just, at the end of the day, I had to do what I knew was right.”
Demboski said she decided to come forward after The Alaska Landmine website published an anonymously-sourced account on Tuesday about her firing, which she called the result of a “whisper campaign that’s being launched to besmirch me.”
Demboski disputed the account and said it does not include the real reasons behind her firing, though the incident it describes is largely true, she said.
Demboski said she used vulgar language to describe Purchasing Director Rachelle Alger in front of Bronson and a few other top members of the administration, directly after their regular Monday morning policy meeting last week. The meeting had finished and Alger, who had attended remotely, was not present, she said.
The Alaska Landmine attributed Bronson’s firing of Demboski to that outburst. The Landmine’s account said Demboski was dismissed after a “long-running conflict” with Alger. Alger did not immediately respond to emailed questions for this article.
Demboski said the mayor had assured her she would not be fired for the incident.
“It was a comment that I regret and it was inappropriate. And I don’t condone that type of language in the workplace,” she said. “... But it was not — it’s not what they’re characterizing it as.”
Demboski said she met with Bronson last Thursday, following that incident. The mayor reprimanded her but said he would not fire her, she said.
But at the time of the meeting, the mayor had not yet read an email she sent him the night before. Demboski says she believes he decided to fire her after reading it. Demboski shared her email with the Daily News.
After reading the email, the mayor emailed his chief of staff, Adam Trombley. Demboski provided the Daily News with a photo of the email.
“I opened this email a couple of hours ago, after our meeting with Amy. There’s another email from her that I haven’t read through yet but I will try to tonight,” Bronson said in the email.
“Could you get to the bottom of this? I cannot have their conflict reignite again,” the mayor said. “Also, could you talk to Amy about her outburst at the end of the Monday AM meeting? Calling Rachelle an F’ng C-t in front of the staff is simply UNACCEPTABLE. She knows we do not use that kind of language here.”
In Demboski’s email to Bronson, she detailed her concerns with the city exceeding the legal capacity for sheltering homeless residents at Sullivan Arena. City code only allows 150 people per emergency winter shelter and requires Assembly approval for more. The Assembly earlier this year approved a surge capacity of up to 200, and it has been largely full. Dozens more residents have been staying inside Sullivan in a separate warming area — without Assembly approval for more capacity — which Demboski told the mayor violates the city code requirement.
[The Sullivan Arena shelter is full. As temperatures plunge, homeless Alaskans are seeking refuge in a crowded warming area.]
“I shared the same concerns with you as I did with Adam: that the warming shelter inside the Sullivan Arena is in violation of the 200 capacity limitation the Assembly set and thereby a violation of municipal law. You (and Adam separately) both acknowledged that you knew it was illegal and were doing it anyway because you had a moral obligation to ensure no one froze to death,” she said in the email.
Bronson had indicated to her that he intentionally did not come to her with the direction to exceed capacity because he knew she would not do it, and so ordered a health department official to do it, Demboski said in the email.
Some Assembly members, including Vice Chair Chris Constant, have recently said they believe the administration is likely violating city code with the warming area inside the arena, and the shelter beds at Sullivan already full.
Constant and other members questioned Bronson and his administration over the issue during Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting. After Constant said the city had essentially raised capacity without approval, Bronson shot back at Constant and said, “We never went above capacity.”
Additionally, Demboski said in the email that she and the mayor had “a lot of discussions about errors on contracts” including contracts that were executed in violation of code.
She also detailed concerns about gossip, harassment and hostility in the work environment, and concerns about how the mayor had spoken about staff, as well.
Demboski sent a separate email to Bronson detailing specific concerns with personnel, she said in the email.
In Tuesday’s interview, Demboski said she had grown concerned about what she sees as a continued pattern of the administration side-stepping city code and circumventing city staff with the experience and knowledge to navigate code, and instances of city code violations.
Demboski said she tried all legal options at her disposal to fix the issues.
“I was trying to do the right thing. I tried to do the right thing behind closed doors within the administration. And at the end of the day, I did everything I could. I didn’t know what else to do,” Demboski said.
”... I hope the mayor can be successful. But in order to be successful, he’s got to get some of this addressed,” she said.
Demboski started as municipal manager when Bronson took office in July of 2021. Since then, Demboski has overseen Bronson’s administration amid numerous controversies. That includes the code violation revealed in October: Bronson officials had pushed ahead with millions in work on a city project to construct a homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage without first getting Assembly approval to increase the contract with the construction management firm, which is required by city code.
Other issues include Bronson’s decision last year to temporarily shut off fluoridation of the city’s water supply; an incident when Demboski ordered a city employee to shut off a livestreamed video feed of a chaotic Assembly meeting on a proposed mask ordinance; this summer’s shutdown of the Sullivan Arena shelter and the transport of homeless residents to an East Anchorage campground with limited resources; and the resignation of the city’s former health department director as an investigation revealed he had fabricated large parts of his resume.
Numerous top-level officials have resigned or been fired from Bronson’s administration during his tenure as mayor.
Heather McAlpine, former director of the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity, was fired shortly after starting an investigation into multiple allegations of a hostile workplace within the city’s library system under Bronson appointee Judy Eledge.
Other departures include former municipal attorney Patrick Bergt and former budget director Cheryl Frasca, among others.