The Anchorage Assembly chair on Tuesday issued a subpoena to Mayor Dave Bronson in a final demand for documents on his hiring of the former Health Department director, Joe Gerace. If the mayor does not comply with the order, the Assembly’s attorneys will take the matter to court, Assembly leaders say.
In the subpoena, Chair Suzanne LaFrance called for Bronson to deliver to the Assembly by 5 p.m. on Thursday two documents — a September document “styled as an investigation” and January memorandum based on the September document, both regarding Joe Gerace’s hiring and tenure.
Gerace resigned in August, just ahead of the publication of an Alaska Public Media and American Public Media report that found Gerace had fabricated and exaggerated details on his resume.
Assembly leaders have twice issued subpoenas for the documents — once for examination in a closed Assembly meeting and again to make them public — but Bronson officials have refused to publicly release them, saying they contain confidential personnel information.
“We’re giving them every chance to do the right thing before we make a move to the courts, so when the courts see the records, they understand — we’ve tried everything,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said on Tuesday.
[Anchorage Assembly will ask courts to enforce subpoena of Bronson administration records]
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bronson last week said that it is “a legal issue” and that if he ordered the documents released, the city’s Department of Law would still refuse.
Last week, Assembly members authorized Assembly attorneys to begin litigation to ask a court to compel Bronson officials to publicly release the reports and comply with the subpoenas.
That decision came after former Human Resources director Niki Tshibaka, who oversaw Gerace’s hiring, did not obey a subpoena from LaFrance. Tshibaka resigned from his position the day before the subpoena required him to turn the documents over.
Instead, then-acting Municipal Attorney Blair Christensen declined to send the documents on the Human Resources Department’s behalf in a letter to Assembly leaders. Christensen argued that the documents are confidential, protected by city code and that “releasing such documents would violate code and employees’ constitutionally protected privacy.”
In a letter to Bronson on Tuesday, Assembly leaders said city code requires that Christensen’s decision be directly appealed to the mayor. They asked him to hand over the documents or provide a written decision on the appeal on Thursday.
LaFrance had also issued a subpoena to Tshibaka in January, which summoned him, along with the department’s records, to a closed-door session. Afterward, frustrated Assembly leaders said they received little, if any, new information that hadn’t already been made public.
“The summary report that we received has no real privileged or confidential information in it. The public has a right to understand what the mayor defines as an in-depth investigation,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said on Tuesday. “... It was a joke. It was nothing.”
Assembly members at that time voted to immediately release the tapes of that session, but they later rescinded the vote on the advice of Assembly attorneys, choosing instead to take the matter to a court for a judge to decide.
Assembly leaders say that any information that is confidential could be redacted from the documents, and that largely, the information is not protected. Several members have also called that January executive session a strategy orchestrated by the administration to keep the documents and information from the public.
LaFrance and several other Assembly members have issued calls for the administration to deliver answers to the public about Gerace’s hiring, as well as other controversies and a series of departures of staff from City Hall under Bronson’s leadership.
Bronson fired former city manager Amy Demboski in December, after which Demboski issued a scathing demand letter accusing Bronson and members of his administration of unethical behavior, misconduct and fostering a hostile work environment, among other issues.
Since then, turmoil within his administration has rapidly escalated, including a string of resignations of some of his top executives — Christensen, former deputy chief of staff Brice Wilbanks and Tshibaka.
Christensen announced her resignation in January, effective last week. Bronson on Monday named Anne Helzer as the city’s municipal attorney, subject to confirmation by the Assembly.
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