Anchorage Assembly leaders this week issued subpoenas to four people — including two former top officials in Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration — in a continuing investigation into the circumstances behind a challenge to the April city election.
Assembly leaders demanded that they appear at a meeting Friday to answer questions and to turn over documents and communications related to the incident, and also any communications discussing the 2022 municipal election.
Those issued subpoenas include former Office of Information Technology director Marc Dahl, who resigned last week, and Sami Graham, a former chief of staff to Bronson who quit working for the city in 2021. Since May, Dahl and Graham have been at the center of investigations by the ombudsman and Assembly into allegations that they tried to interfere with results of April’s municipal election.
Dahl resigned following the August conclusion of an investigation into the election challenge by the city ombudsman, who called for the mayor to fire Dahl.
Assembly leaders also called for the attendance of two other election observers who brought the challenge alongside Graham, John Henry and Daniel Smith.
“The Assembly is taking seriously threats — allegations and threats — to our election system,” Assembly Chair Christopher Constant said during a Tuesday meeting. The Assembly earlier this month voted to pursue subpoenas and potential legal action if subpoenas are not followed and documents are not turned over.
In the subpoenas, leaders called for Dahl, Graham and the other election observers to turn over any communications, such as text or emails, to or from Bronson and several of his current and former top executives.
If they refuse to obey the subpoenas, the Assembly chair can ask the Superior Court to make them comply with contempt proceedings, as would occur for a court subpoena, according to city code.
Ombudsman Darrel Hess, in an investigation released last month, concluded that he “reasonably believes that there may have been a violation of state election statutes,” and referred the investigation to the state Office of Special Prosecutions.
The report detailed evidence that, on April 11, Dahl instructed IT staff to revise an improperly created security policy and then publish it to an internal webpage accessible only to city staff. Dahl then emailed that policy to Graham, who was at the time an election observer. Later that day, Graham and the two other observers quoted the policy verbatim in a challenge to the city election. They questioned the validity of the election results and claimed that election workers had violated the policy. For a policy to apply citywide, it must undergo a rigorous review process and be signed into effect by the mayor.
At the time, it was clear that Bronson-supported candidates for Assembly were losing by wide margins. A report by the Daily News in May made the incident public. The ombudsman in his report said it appears likely that Dahl coordinated with the observers and added the policy to support their challenge.
The mayor remained largely silent on the matter until the Assembly activated subpoena powers earlier this month. The following day, Bronson released a statement saying that he’d asked for Dahl’s resignation and called the Assembly’s action “an extreme measure” and “completely unnecessary.”
Bronson also defended Dahl’s actions, saying he saw no evidence that Dahl’s actions were illegal and that he firmly believes Dahl “thought he had identified a potential security risk to our servers and used poor judgment in an attempt to resolve it.”
Assembly leaders have questioned what role the mayor played in the incident, including whether Bronson knew about the policy or the challenge.
The mayor has said that he knew nothing of the policy’s development or the situation until it became public in May.
Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel on Tuesday questioned why Bronson did not fire Dahl. The mayor responded that it’s a human resources issue, and referred the question to the HR director, who was not present.
Many questions about the incident remain unanswered, Assembly members say. It’s not clear exactly what motivated Dahl to send Graham the policy, or to post it to the internal webpage. It’s not clear whether Graham knew it had just been posted and that it was not, in fact, a citywide policy as she and the observers claimed in their appeal.
The city’s election code must be updated before January in order to implement any necessary changes and protections ahead of the spring election, Assembly leaders say.
“The Assembly has a Charter commanded duty to steward our elections. Annually, we review the elections processes and update the code to ensure we run the best election possible,” Constant said in a Wednesday statement. “There are a number of questions raised by the ombudsman’s report. The Assembly has a duty to understand what happened and ensure nothing like it happens again.”
Dahl and Graham turned down previous requests from Assembly leaders to attend a meeting about the matter held earlier this month.
Dahl’s attorney, Jeffrey Robinson, on Wednesday declined to comment.
In a letter sent to Constant earlier this month, Robinson said that “Mr. Dahl vehemently denies the Ombudsman’s allegations of civil and/or criminal misconduct.”
Graham, Henry and Smith did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.