Anchorage

Anchorage’s acting municipal attorney resigns

february, city hall, downtown anchorage, winter, mayor's office

Acting Anchorage Municipal Attorney Blair Christensen is leaving her job as City Hall continues to be roiled following a series of resignations and accusations of illegal and unethical behavior.

Christensen told the Daily News she gave her letter of resignation to Mayor Dave Bronson on Monday, saying she has “a new opportunity.”

“And it seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” she said.

Her last day will be Feb. 8, Christensen said. She worked for the city for nine years, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor’s office announced Christensen’s departure shortly after she confirmed her resignation to the Daily News.

Bronson’s first municipal attorney, Patrick Bergt, left the job in June. The Anchorage Assembly in September rejected Bronson’s next pick for city attorney, Mario Bird. He is currently working for the city in the role of senior policy adviser in the mayor’s office, according to the city’s employee directory.

The municipal attorney’s office provides legal advice and support for the city government and oversees prosecution of misdemeanors and traffic offenses, among other responsibilities.

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Christensen’s departure comes at a time of upheaval in Anchorage City Hall. Former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski has accused Bronson and his administration of a slew of misdeeds, including illegal contracting, sexism and attempting to kill a criminal case that had been pending against the business partner of one of Bronson’s key advisers. Bronson’s deputy chief of staff, Brice Wilbanks, resigned last week but then walked back the resignation after the city ombudsman notified city attorneys that an executive on Bronson’s team might have attempted to view City Hall surveillance footage. (A spokesman with the mayor’s office said Friday that Wilbanks “is no longer employed” with the city.)

Christensen would not comment on Demboski’s accusations, and whether they played a role in her decision to leave.

“I’m not going to comment on any of that,” she said.

Anchorage Assembly, emergency measures, Blair Christensen

“I’ve enjoyed very much working for the Municipality of Anchorage and serving the citizens. I truly have enjoyed this very much. It’s been one of the greatest jobs of my life and it’s been a very difficult decision for me,” she said.

Last week, Wilbanks’ attorneys, in a letter addressed to the mayor, the ombudsman, Christensen and the mayor’s chief of staff, accused the ombudsman of acting improperly. Wilbanks’ attorneys also said that Wilbanks had consulted with Christensen about the matter and that those communications are confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege.

Christensen said that she did not provide legal advice to Wilbanks, as suggested in the letter. ”We have put his attorney on notice that that is not true,” Christensen said. “We do not advise employees on criminal matters.”

Christensen declined to provide a copy of her resignation letter. “Not that there’s anything in there that’s anything other than your typical resignation letter,” she said.

She declined to say what her new job will be. “I wouldn’t want to share without talking to my new employer,” she said.

Since taking office, Bronson’s administration has seen numerous departures and switch-ups in roles of top officials. That includes the August resignation of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace, who resigned just ahead of a report that revealed he fabricated or exaggerated credentials and work history on his resume to the city.

Several key City Hall roles are currently filled by staff in an acting capacity, meaning the appointed officials have not yet been confirmed by Assembly or are filling the role temporarily. Those include the municipal attorney position, municipal manager and the Health Department director, among others.

Since Demboski’s firing last month, Assembly leaders have called for the mayor to speak publicly to questions and concerns surrounding the stability and functioning of the administration, its finances and the allegations.

On Monday, in a first for the municipality, the Assembly activated its chair’s subpoena powers to investigate Bronson’s hiring of Gerace. The Assembly planned an executive session for 8 p.m. Tuesday and issued a subpoena to Chief Human Resources Officer Niki Tshibaka on the Gerace matters.

Bronson has not publicly responded to Demboski’s allegations, citing personnel issues and possible litigation. His office has declined interview requests and has not answered questions from the Daily News.

Bronson’s tight-lipped approach continued at Tuesday’s night Assembly meeting. The mayor did not speak to the recent upheaval at City Hall during his opening comments.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance then called on Bronson to speak, to “respond to our community regarding the growing concerns of financial and employment mismanagement, as well as the results of the Gerace investigation.”

“HR records are a private affair and we are required by law to not divulge HR records, whether it’s Mr. Gerace’s or anyone else,” Bronson said in response. “And that was, I believe, explained to you by Blair Christensen as well, so I’ll leave it at that. And any comments on any HR records going forward can be directed to the Department of Law.”

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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

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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