The day after an attorney for former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski sent a scathing letter to Mayor Dave Bronson alleging illegal acts, gender discrimination, egregious mismanagement and retaliation, members of the Anchorage Assembly discussed how they should respond. Members say they are coordinating with legal counsel about options for curbing liability and unlawful conduct.
“I am shocked and not surprised,” Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant said during a previously scheduled rules committee meeting Thursday that went on a lengthy detour from its planned agenda to discuss the Demboski document.
On Wednesday, a lawyer representing Demboski released the 11-page letter to elected officials and news media. It is filled with accusations, including that Bronson and members of his administration broke numerous laws in handling city contracts and engaged in or overlooked sexist conduct and harassment, and alleges her abrupt termination was retaliation for raising concerns to the mayor. Demboski and her lawyer are demanding the mayor’s office settle her wrongful termination claim and issue an apology, or else risk litigation.
Bronson’s office said Wednesday it would not be commenting on the matter.
“The allegations in the letter are extremely shocking and outline a level of mismanagement of municipal resources that we have not seen in our tenure on the Assembly,” Constant and Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said in a statement Thursday. “Because the allegations are so extreme, we are still processing all that we have read and determining what action the Assembly can take to safeguard the municipality’s employees, finances and reputation.”
By Thursday afternoon during their committee meeting, members were already thinking about what will come next.
“The Assembly, as you all know, is very limited in the actions it can take in regards to personnel issues,” LaFrance said.
She and Constant have asked the Assembly’s legal adviser to examine the scope of their powers as they relate to the misconduct alleged in the executive branch.
“We have legislative powers, but what does that mean exactly for investigations?” asked Assembly Counsel Dean Gates. “We have subpoena power, we haven’t exercised that.”
Members intend to hold a special meeting to discuss potential paths available to them in the weeks ahead.
One option not explicitly brought up at Thursday’s meeting: removal. This summer, the Assembly passed a measure outlining a process for the Assembly removing a mayor from office for breaching public trust. Though Bronson tried blocking the rule change with a veto, he was promptly overridden by a supermajority of Assembly members.
“Members will want to understand the full range of options,” LaFrance said in a brief interview, and did not elaborate further on whether removal proceedings will be on the table.
The Assembly has already asked the Bronson administration for a closed-door meeting to discuss its investigation into former Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace.
“We may consider expanding the scope of that meeting,” LaFrance said.
Issues involving employment and human resource matters typically have to be held in executive sessions to comply with personnel rules.
LaFrance told members at Thursday’s meeting to expect to see an appropriation item in the near future, one that could fund a contractor’s review of the municipality’s processes for procurement and make sure, given issues raised in the letter, that the city is “following the laws preventing discrimination and harassment.”
“I think we’re all kind of blindsided by this,” said member Kevin Cross, who represents Eagle River and has sided with the administration on a range of issues.
He said that moving forward, it was important for the Assembly to stay unified in whatever actions it takes, and to stress that it is working in the public’s interest and not out of a partisan agenda.
“I want to make sure we strip away any pretense that this is political,” Cross said.
Other Assembly members say the issues raised in Demboski’s letter confirm problems they have been monitoring and trying to learn more about for almost as long as Bronson has been in office.
“There’s a pattern that we’ve seen. And so I don’t see this as independent from actions that have happened from the administration over the past year and a half,” said Kameron Perez-Verdia, who represents West Anchorage.
He noted that interest in problems at City Hall is high among constituents and the public, and findings ought to eventually be shared after frank, open discussions within an executive session.
“We really have not as a body, as a whole body, really engaged in a thoughtful conversation about actions that we have seen that have been in parallel with this,” Perez-Verdia said. “It’s valuable to recognize that we’ve seen behaviors that align to this.”