Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Bronson’s office accused of using City Hall surveillance video to track staff speaking to ombudsman, Assembly members

february, city hall, downtown anchorage, winter

City employees are accusing Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration of downloading City Hall surveillance videos to see who has been going to the ombudsman’s office and speaking to Assembly members, the ombudsman said Thursday in a memo to the mayor and the Assembly chair.

The ombudsman, Darrel Hess, said in the memo he was referring the matter to municipal prosecutors, citing his belief that “there may have been a breach of duty, misconduct, or illegal activity.”

The Municipal Prosecutor’s Office has referred the case to the Anchorage District Attorney with the Alaska Department of Law, acting Municipal Attorney Blair Christensen said Thursday evening.

Multiple city employees have contacted Hess’ office and alleged that an executive said that the mayor’s office has been downloading copies of surveillance videos, Hess said in the memo.

“Employees have stated that they are hesitant to visit our office because they are afraid that access to our office is being monitored. The employees perceive the alleged statements by the executive to be an attempt to intimidate them to not contact the Ombudsman’s Office,” Hess said in the memo.

Hess did not name the executive. The memo didn’t specify to whom the executive had communicated that video had been downloaded.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said, “Mayor Bronson takes these allegations very seriously. The administration is investigating these allegations.”

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Anchorage Municipal Ombudsman's Office

The accusations of attempting to intimidate employees are “serious, chilling allegations — even if no videos have been pulled,” Hess said in the memo.

“Given the gravity of the accusations, and based on the statements of multiple Municipal employees, I reasonably believe that there may have been a breach of duty, misconduct, or illegal activity by a Municipal employee,” Hess said in the memo.

Hess has an obligation under the city’s law about misconduct by municipal personnel to refer the matter to the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office, he wrote. The ombudsman is an independent office under the city’s charter, and according to its website, “Investigates complaints against agencies, departments and employees of the Municipality and the School District,” among other duties.

Upheaval at City Hall

Both the ombudsman and Assembly offices are on the first floor of City Hall, with multiple security cameras monitoring foot traffic.

City Hall camera

Recent upheaval at City Hall burst into public view last week when Bronson’s recently fired former city manager, Amy Demboski, accused the mayor and his administration of violating laws, acting unethically, discriminating against women and creating and tolerating a hostile work environment. Demboski’s lawyer detailed those accusations in a letter to the mayor, and claimed Bronson had fired Demboski in retaliation after she raised her concerns to him in an email.

Demboski formally lodged those allegations to the ombudsman in a mid-December emailed complaint.

A few days later, Bronson abruptly announced he was replacing Demboski, with no public statement about the reasons for her departure. Demboski told reporters she had been fired in retaliation.

Bronson has declined to publicly respond to her letter and the allegations.

Demboski’s firing and her letter set in motion an Assembly inquiry into the allegations. The Assembly is holding two special meetings in response: one on Thursday afternoon to get advice from attorneys on possible courses of action, and one Friday where the Assembly may vote to take some action, though exactly what action is not yet clear.

The ombudsman sent the memo to the Assembly as an information item for Thursday’s meeting.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said the allegations described by Hess are “very, very concerning — disturbing, actually.”

The memo from the ombudsman will not change the Assembly’s plans for the meetings, though members may have questions related to the memo for attorneys, LaFrance said.

City Information Technology Director Marc Dahl said Thursday “it’s not technically possible” for members of the IT staff to download videos captured by the lobby surveillance cameras. The camera system is archaic and also does not have access logs available to the IT department, he said. Asked if anyone from the mayor’s office asked IT to view security footage, Dahl said no.

He said that given the limitations of the old surveillance system, the only way for someone to review the security footage of the lobby would be to ask the security employees at the front desk.

The Daily News asked front desk security officer Michael Maberry if anyone from the mayor’s office asked him to review security footage.

“I’d rather not say,” Maberry said.

Anchorage City Hall

There is no camera inside the hallway that leads to the ombudsman’s office. But two cameras above the elevator doors and another beside the City Hall entrance from Sixth Avenue would show foot traffic heading to and from the ombudsman’s hallway. The hallway to the ombudsman’s office turns a corner, where another camera is pointed at an exit door. Maberry said this camera is not operational.

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Another camera, which appears to be newer than the legacy cameras mounted near ceilings, is mounted beside the door to the Assembly offices.

Referred to Alaska Department of Law

Christensen with the Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday evening said that, given the circumstances, she and acting city prosecutor Monica Elkinton decided to refer the case to Anchorage District Attorney Brittany Dunlop within the state’s Department of Law.

“We wanted to ensure the appearance of a totally fair process, and given the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office is within the Municipal Attorney’s Office, which obviously is all under the executive branch of the municipality, it seemed at this point we should just allow the state, the district attorney’s office... to review it instead of us,” Christensen said.

The city’s Department of Law, including its prosecutors, is overseen by the municipal attorney, an executive position appointed by the mayor. The municipal attorney, like other city executives, “serves at the pleasure of the mayor” and can be fired at will.

Currently, Christensen is in the role in an acting capacity and not as a permanent appointee. Christensen became acting municipal attorney after the former appointee, Patrick Bergt, resigned last year. The Assembly rejected the mayor’s next pick for municipal attorney, Mario Bird, and Christensen again took on the job.

One of the most serious allegations that Demboski brought to the ombudsman in December was that Bergt, the previous municipal attorney, was pressured by the mayor’s adviser to influence a criminal case. Demboski said that the mayor’s senior policy adviser, Larry Baker, twice approached Bergt to get him to drop or reduce criminal domestic violence charges against Baker’s business partner.

Demboski also said she believes Bergt did not take any action in response to pressure from Baker, and that Bergt expressed shock and discomfort. Bergt has declined to comment, citing concerns over breaking attorney-client privilege in his former capacity as municipal attorney.

Christensen also has declined to answer questions asking if she had been contacted by Baker to influence the case in her capacity as acting city attorney.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor’s Office has referred the case to the Alaska Department of Law.

Read the full memo:

Related coverage:

Anchorage Assembly to hold special meetings on fired municipal manager’s allegations against the mayor

From Mayor Bronson’s first day in office, a domestic violence case loomed over Anchorage City Hall

Fired Anchorage city manager accuses Bronson administration of illegal, unethical behavior

Fired Anchorage city manager accuses Bronson administration of illegal, unethical behavior

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. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email khopkins@adn.com

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