Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s human resources director, Niki Tshibaka, abruptly resigned Monday, citing “an increasingly toxic, hostile, and demoralizing work environment.” His departure is the latest in a string of resignations and firings of top officials in Bronson’s administration.
Tshibaka, who has been involved a series of personnel controversies and allegations against the Bronson administration, attributed his departure to a worsening hostile work environment.
In a letter to Bronson on Monday, Tshibaka wrote, “I can no longer continue to serve in what has become an increasingly toxic, hostile, and demoralizing work environment, making the positive progress and forward momentum the people of Anchorage deserve and expect of this Administration virtually impossible.”
His resignation was effective immediately, the letter said.
Attorney Kevin Fitzgerald provided the Daily News with a copy of Tshibaka’s letter. Neither Tshibaka nor Fitzgerald could be reached Monday by the Daily News.
Bronson didn’t immediately respond to questions about Tshibaka’s resignation, but late Tuesday issued a written statement saying, “To be clear, former Human Resources Director Niki Tshibaka was not asked or encouraged by any member of the Administration or Municipality to resign. Mr. Tshibaka resigned on his own volition for the reasons stated in his letter. I would like to thank Mr. Tshibaka for his service to the Municipality.”
Raylene Griffith, the department’s labor relations director, will serve as acting director of human resources, the mayor’s office said.
Tshibaka has been at the center of an Anchorage Assembly investigation into the administration’s hiring of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace, who fabricated details on his resume to the city. The Assembly’s chair issued a subpoena to Tshibaka and held a closed-door session over the issue in January.
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Tshibaka is also at the center of a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city by the former director of Anchorage’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Heather MacAlpine. MacAlpine says she was fired for investigating complaints made against a library official who Tshibaka protected.
Bronson’s administration has been rocked with upheaval in the aftermath of his firing in December of former city manager, Amy Demboski. She later issued a scathing letter accusing Bronson and members of his administration of unethical behavior and misconduct.
Bronson has repeatedly declined to discuss Demboski’s allegations.
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Since November, the city’s Ombudsman Office has received a dozen or more complaints from current and former city employees alleging a hostile work environment, ombudsman Darrel Hess told the Daily News in an interview last week.
Hess, who has worked as ombudsman for a little over 10 years, said he’s seen more hostile work environment complaints over the last year “than the other nine years put together.”
In January, Hess referred to city prosecutors allegations by city staff that the mayor’s office or one of the mayor’s executives may have interfered with his investigation into alleged misconduct. The city attorney’s office forwarded the memo to the state Department of Law.
In his memo, Hess wrote that “there may have been a breach of duty, misconduct, or illegal activity.”
Bronson’s deputy chief of staff, Brice Wilbanks, abruptly resigned that week.
Several days later, the city’s acting city attorney, Blair Christensen, also resigned, effective Feb. 8.
Demboski, in her letter, accused the mayor of encouraging and condoning a hostile work environment. She also accused Tshibaka and the mayor of taking no action after she reported to them that a senior staff member had passed out “genitalia-shaped cookies” to staff in the City Hall workplace.
Tshibaka did not answer questions about her claim sent to him by the Daily News on Friday and again on Monday, before the mayor’s office announced his resignation.
The mayor’s office also did not answer questions about the cookies and any disciplinary action against the senior staff member from Bronson or Tshibaka.
MacAlpine, the former director of the equal opportunity office, was fired in May while she was investigating employee workplace complaints about a hostile work environment involving the Anchorage Public Library and its deputy director, Judy Eledge.
Library employees had complained to Hess and MacAlpine of a hostile work environment and alleged that Eledge had made racist statements and other derogatory remarks.
MacAlpine said Tshibaka, while serving as human resources director, later wore a T-shirt to a library advisory board meeting supporting Eledge, printed with the text, “I’m with Judy.” MacAlpine’s complaint says Tshibaka’s T-shirt supports her claim that she was fired over her investigation.
In July, the city answered MacAlpine’s complaint. City attorneys denied that Eledge made racist statements and disputed that MacAlpine had been fired for acting as a whistleblower.
In August, Hess recommended that Tshibaka be “walled off” from any involvement with library personnel complaints and that he no longer be a part of library hiring panels.
After questioning Tshibaka last month over Gerace’s hiring and Tshibaka’s written report of the administration’s internal investigation, Anchorage Assembly leaders said they weren’t satisfied. They called on the administration to release the report and said it contained little information that wasn’t already public.
Tshibaka, in his resignation letter on Monday, said that he’d been directed to vet and onboard Gerace with a “one day business turnaround.” He did not say who gave him that direction.
The Human Resources Department operates under the Office of the Municipal Manager and Office of the Mayor, according to the city’s organizational chart. Among other duties, it is “responsible for assuring compliance with all employment related rules, regulations, laws and agreements,” according to its website.
Gerace resigned in August, just ahead of the publication of an investigation by Alaska Public Media and American Public Media reporting he had fabricated or exaggerated credentials and work history on his resume to the city.
Former colleagues and employees of Gerace made multiple accusations against him, including some involving his credentials, as the Assembly weighed his confirmation. Tshibaka at the time publicly defended Gerace, calling the accusations false and an attempt at “character assassination.”
In his resignation letter, Tshibaka said Bronson’s executive appointments were vetted with longstanding department policy and procedures. In 2022, the department began addressing “dozens of initiatives to improve, streamline and/or modernize our department’s operations,” he said.
Until Monday, Tshibaka had been one of the few executives remaining from Bronson’s initial roster of top officials. More than half of the executive team Bronson announced as he took office has since departed.
Currently, several city departments and offices are operating without a long-term leader, and top executive positions are being filled by officials working in a temporary, acting capacity. Those include the acting municipal attorney, acting municipal manager and acting health department director.
Tshibaka’s temporary replacement, Griffith, has 13 years of experience working for the municipality and has “served in a variety of roles” in the Human Resources Department, according to the mayor’s office.
Tshibaka is married to Kelly Tshibaka, who last year unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
He’s an ordained minister, a graduate of Harvard Law School and worked as an attorney for more than three years in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., according to his resume. He grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Tshibakas moved to Anchorage in 2019 when Kelly Tshibaka, who grew up in Alaska, was hired in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration. Niki Tshibaka took a job in a newly created position as assistant commissioner in the Alaska Department of Education.
The ADN’s Kyle Hopkins contributed.