Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly activates subpoena powers for inquiry into former Health Department director

Anchorage Health Department, Joe Gerace, health department

In an unusual move, the Anchorage Assembly on Monday activated its subpoena powers to investigate Mayor Dave Bronson’s hiring of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace.

Gerace fabricated or overstated credentials and work history on his resume to the city, and resigned in August just before the publication of an investigation revealed he had done so.

The new subpoena powers allow the Assembly chair to compel witness testimony and the disclosure of documents related to Gerace’s hiring and resignation.

“This is a difficult document to move, but it is a necessary document to move,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said when introducing the measure, adding that it is an “unprecedented action” for the Assembly to take.

In a unanimous vote Monday night, Assembly members approved the resolution giving Chair Suzanne LaFrance the power to issue subpoenas for:

• The administration’s internal reports and investigations into Gerace’s hiring, vetting and departure.

• All documents and correspondence between officials, including the mayor, related to Gerace’s hiring, vetting and departure.

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• Any witness who conducted or participated in the administration’s internal investigation.

• Any witness who conducted or participated in Gerace’s appointment, hiring, vetting, term of service, or termination.

The measure passed with support from municipal attorneys in the Bronson administration.

“The reason we requested a subpoena is because there is the constitutional right to privacy for your personnel records under the Alaska constitution,” Acting Municipal Attorney Blair Christensen said at the meeting.

“Mr. Gerace, in public statements, has been, I guess, vocal ... about the potential of him suing people for slander or libel or any kind of defamation claims. In order to protect the Municipality of Anchorage in the totality, we thought it appropriate to have the Assembly subpoena the report and then provide the contents of that report in an executive session.”

LaFrance and Constant said at the meeting that the main purpose of the measure was to try to access a report conducted by the Bronson administration about Gerace’s hiring.

“What’s germane today is the report that details the how, what, where, and when they investigated the Joe Gerace experience, and so we are going to start with that and see where it goes,” Constant said.

Immediately after Gerace resigned, Bronson officials said they were launching an investigation into the city’s hiring practices. That investigation has been conducted by officials who oversaw Gerace’s hiring, including Chief Human Resources Officer Niki Tshibaka and the city’s Human Resources Department.

Distrustful of the administration’s investigation, Assembly leadership also said its members would begin an inquiry and called for internal audits of Gerace’s spending, and of contracts issued and work done in the Health Department under his direction.

As the Assembly was considering Bronson’s appointment of Gerace in 2021, members of the public made multiple accusations against Gerace. The claims came largely from former colleagues and employees he had supervised at previous workplaces. The accusations related to his behavior in the workplace and included allegations of sexism toward female employees, along with concerns about qualifications and safety. Tshibaka at the time called the accusations false and an attempt at character assassination.

Monday’s measure comes on the heels of several chaotic weeks in city government that began with Bronson’s firing of former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski, who later publicly accused the administration of unlawful and unethical conduct, gender discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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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.

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