Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s chief of staff, Adam Trombley, has resigned.
Mario Bird, who Bronson once appointed as acting municipal attorney, will serve as acting chief of staff, according to an email Bird sent Assembly members on Wednesday morning. Trombley resigned for “personal reasons,” Bird said in the email.
The Assembly rejected Bird as city attorney last year, voting against his confirmation. Bird has since been working for the mayor’s office as a senior policy director.
The resignation comes a day after initial results in the city election showed Assembly candidates aligned with the mayor losing by large margins in all but one race.
“Having Mario serve in an acting capacity will provide stability and continuity to the Administration. I thank him for his willingness to lead while we undergo the process of finding a permanent Chief of Staff,” Bronson said in a news release sent later Wednesday morning.
Trombley’s departure is the latest in a string of recent firings and resignations of the mayor’s top executives.
Bronson’s administration has been rocked with upheaval in recent months, catalyzed by 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, misconduct and fostering a hostile work environment, among other allegations.
Multiple executive positions in Bronson’s administration are unfilled with permanent appointments, and some departments are being led by acting directors.
Former deputy chief of staff Brice Wilbanks abruptly resigned in January. That same week, the city ombudsman referred to municipal prosecutors accusations from multiple staff members, who said the mayor’s office was using City Hall surveillance video to track who had been going to the ombudsman and Assembly offices.
In February, the city’s Human Resources director, Niki Tshibaka, resigned. He cited “an increasingly toxic, hostile, and demoralizing work environment” in his resignation letter. Tshibaka had been under scrutiny for his role in a series of personnel controversies, including the hiring of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace, who exaggerated and fabricated details on his resumes.
Bird is the fifth person to take the role as Bronson’s chief of staff since the mayor was elected in 2021.
Bronson initially appointed Craig Campbell, a former lieutenant governor, to the position. When the Assembly rejected the confirmation of Bronson’s pick for city librarian, Sami Graham, two months later, Bronson immediately countered by naming her as his new chief of staff. Graham resigned in January of last year and was replaced by Alexis Johnson.
Then, in a switch-up of top officials, Trombley moved into the chief of staff role, leaving his position as director of economic and community development, while Johnson moved to the Health Department to oversee the city’s homelessness response.
Trombley did not immediately return a phone call on Wednesday morning.
Trombley’s interim replacement, Bird, had taken over Wilbanks’ work on filling city boards and commissions vacancies and support staff vacancies. Bird will continue with that project as interim chief of staff, the mayor’s office said by email on Wednesday.
Bird said that he is “committed to maintaining open lines of communication” with Assembly members in his Wednesday email to them.
“Filling Adam’s shoes is a tall order, and I have my shortcomings. I will do my best to serve for the common good of our city, and I welcome your communication,” he said in the email.
Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant said he’s had a positive experience working with Bird on that issue over the last few months. (The administration’s appointees to boards and commissions face Assembly confirmation votes.)
“Mario I think will do a fine job” as chief of staff, Constant said. “He has already shown, over the past two months, that he is happy to step past the ideology and just do the work.”
Since taking over for Wilbanks in managing appointments, Bird “has eliminated the gross partisan approach that had just imbued everything the administration has been doing for two years — which is a real surprise,” Constant said. “It’s a subtle change, but it’s a meaningful change.”
Bird has also brought with him a level of professionalism that has quelled unnecessary tension and chaos that preceded Wilbanks’ departure, Constant said.
Political tension between the Assembly’s center-to-left majority and the conservative Bronson administration has mounted since the mayor took office in 2021. A series of controversies have swept through city hall, notably Demboski’s allegations, and the Assembly took swift action to strengthen its check on the mayor’s power to spend without review. Assembly leadership has pressed forward with inquiries into the allegations, into Gerace’s hiring and other issues.
The Assembly and administration have often been at odds over key city issues and projects, resulting in heated back-and-forths during meetings and in some cases, legal action.
Trombley, however, made an effort to collaborate with Assembly members, share information and improve communication between the Assembly and administration, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said.
Trombley’s departure marks another loss of experienced leadership on the mayor’s team, she said. Trombley served on the Assembly for three years, from 2011 to 2014, and was one of Bronson’s original appointees to the administration.
“All that to say ... he will be missed,” LaFrance said.
Under Bronson, Trombley spearheaded a now-defunct project, Holtan Hills, which would have developed housing on a large tract of city-owned land in Girdwood.
The Assembly voted down the land disposal, killing the project in February. Several members who previously expressed support for the project cited a lack of trust in the administration and a shortage of key executive staff to successfully implement it, including the lack of a Real Estate Department director and Heritage Land Bank director.
“I think it was heartbreaking for (Trombley), the Holtan Hills project,” Constant said.
“Adam was operating in an environment where he was attempting to do big things, without any support, and a distrustful Assembly, because we’ve all had our fingertips burnt on the stove,” Constant said. Given that, it made sense to him that Trombley would leave, he said.
Assembly member Daniel Volland, who interacted with Trombley as a part of the AMATS Policy Committee, said he is concerned with the level of executive turnover in the administration. Every time the city loses a high-level official, it hinders city projects for the community, keeping them from timely moving forward, he said.
“We continually lose institutional knowledge. For instance, just this morning, I had to convene a working group with the now-new acting municipal manager, the new acting municipal attorney, new acting HR director,” Volland said. “... We had a really productive conversation. But we had to circle way back. It’s two steps forward, one step back.”
Bird has been an attorney for 10 years and received his law degree from the Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic law school in Naples, Florida, where he served on its law review, according to the mayor’s office.
Bronson initially appointed Bird as municipal attorney to replace Patrick Bergt, who resigned in June.
Bird has a lengthy history in conservative Alaska politics and of supporting right-wing causes.
In the past, Bird published several articles on The Alaska Watchman, a conservative faith-based news website, where he was described as its legal analyst. He practiced law “on behalf of freedom and religious causes, including the Alliance Defending Freedom,” according to a short biography posted on the website.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that argues religious liberty cases and challenges LGBTQ rights nationwide, including in a recent lawsuit over changes to Anchorage’s anti-discrimination laws on behalf of a local faith-based homeless shelter for women.
Bird represented a group of Anchorage residents who sued the municipality and the Assembly in 2020 over the city’s closure of Assembly meetings to in-person participation under a COVID-19 emergency order by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. The lawsuit was settled in April of last year.
Bird is also the Anchorage attorney who, in 2021, sent a letter to Providence Alaska executives demanding a local conservative political activist be given ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19.
He has been a leader in a conservative judicial reform movement that seeks to change Alaska’s system of judicial appointments. Bird has published opinion pieces on the subject on the Alaska Watchman website.