Former Anchorage municipal manager Amy Demboski, who was abruptly fired by Mayor Dave Bronson last December, is suing the mayor and the municipality. The civil lawsuit, filed in state court last week, accuses the mayor and some of his top staff of “wanton disregard and disdain for following law and propriety.”
Many of the allegations were first brought to public attention in a letter threatening legal action against the city in January. Among the accusations: gender discrimination, retaliation, violations of whistleblower protections, an inappropriate workplace relationship, defamation and unlawful termination.
That led the Anchorage Assembly to consider, then ultimately reject, a proposed settlement with Demboski for $550,000. A majority of members said earlier this year that the claims ought to be evaluated through the legal system before public money was spent on a settlement. The newly filed suit is a major step in that direction.
The lawsuit names Bronson as a defendant in his official capacity as mayor, as well as the municipality and two unnamed co-defendants. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and any other relief the court deems fair. No specific dollar amount is being sought.
Though the civil complaint rehashes many of the same incidents and patterns brought to light in Demboski’s initial letter and subsequent news reports, the 24-page document includes new accusations of dysfunction, mismanagement and corruption within the Bronson administration.
Many of the allegations involve blatant violations of the public process. Those include the claim that Bronson and his adviser, Larry Baker, explicitly pushed for construction work at the proposed Tudor and Elmore homeless shelter and navigation center without obtaining the appropriate contract approvals for the Assembly. The complaint includes accusations of multiple other instances where Bronson and other subordinates attempted to circumvent Demboski in order to pursue actions that violated municipal code.
Separate allegations involve Bronson, Baker and others in the administration attempting to leverage personal connections to steer municipal business, real estate deals and a criminal case involving Baker’s business partner in their favor.
Additional accusations in the lawsuit paint a picture of sexism, favoritism and scandal within City Hall. Demboski names a high-level executive alleged to have carried on an improper relationship with a subordinate in what is portrayed as an open secret inside the administration. Demboski said Bronson engaged in and encouraged “retaliatory behavior” against staff members who brought the relationship to light.
The lawsuit makes numerous allegations of inappropriate actions by the city’s purchasing director, Rachelle Alger, but says nothing was done, in part, because Bronson said “he would never fire Ms. Alger because she knocked on 1,200 doors for him during his campaign for mayor.” In several other instances, Demboski claims there was a pattern by Bronson of treating women “as subservient to men,” including his communication with her.
In a response to a request for comment from the administration, communications director Veronica Hoxie said the mayor is “aware Ms. Demboski has filed a civil suit.” She declined to elaborate further about specific questions related to the complaint.
Demboski directed questions to her attorney, Scott Kendall.
“The complaint speaks for itself,” Kendall said Wednesday.
Kendall also sent a letter Tuesday to Municipal Attorney Anne Helzer.
“If there is any additional delay in resolving this dispute, Ms. Demboski’s damages claims will only grow. Given the Municipality’s exposure, as well as the substantial costs of obtaining its own counsel to defend this lawsuit, it is my hope that you will see the wisdom in resolving this matter promptly via settlement,” Kendall wrote. “Time is of the essence if you wish for my client to consider resolving this matter via settlement.”
Assembly Chair Christopher Constant noted Wednesday that the newly filed complaint has a greater level of specificity than Demboski’s initial letter.
“The additional detail in the lawsuit underscores that the people of Anchorage have a strong interest in discovering the facts behind the allegations,” Constant said. “I’m not sure if the Assembly will want to settle until the facts are discovered.”
The next step in the process is for the municipality to file an answer to specific allegations in the complaint, which is expected in the next several weeks.