With an upcoming mayoral election and the re-occurring debates about the records of Dan Sullivan and Mark Begich, I hope we can renew our focus on sound management within the Municipality of Anchorage. For the record, I was staff to both Dan Sullivan and Mark Begich when they served on the Anchorage Assembly.
As a current member of the Anchorage Assembly, I am very concerned about two trends in the Mayor's Office: Mismanagement and cuts to the police force.
A glaring example of mismanagement is Dan Sullivan's SAP software contract. Sullivan began this project in 2011, promising a $9.6 million budget. Currently, the budget has mushroomed to $31.6 million, more than tripling, and the project still isn't complete. At this point, I'm equally concerned about the inevitable based upon the failed "go live" dates and comments during a monthly update on SAP -- that more of your tax dollars will be committed to this project.
The project is more than two years behind schedule. Sullivan has fired old consultants and hired new ones. Through all this mismanagement, the cost to taxpayers has grown.
Alaska Dispatch News noted at the end of August that this "project has been plagued by cost overruns, staffing problems and missed deadlines."
Several members of the Anchorage Assembly have been very critical of the project. My conservative colleague Amy Demboski and I have both expressed frustration with the project's delays and cost overruns.
Unfortunately, Dan Sullivan's mismanagement isn't limited to this large software project. Perhaps the most troubling trend during his administration is the massive loss of police officers, detectives, and staff. Under Sullivan, the Anchorage Police Department has lost approximately 120 valuable cops and other employees.
Sullivan missed holding two police academies, which dried up much of the police recruitment pipeline. He pushed through the unpopular labor ordinance AO 37, which has undermined recruitment and morale. He vetoed funding for police School Resource Officers, which undermined safety in Anchorage public schools. Fortunately, during the last budget process, the majority of my colleagues joined me in recognizing that SRO's should be paid for with the Anchorage Metropolitan Service Area funds (collected from our taxpayers for police protection throughout Anchorage, including our schools) and not money designated to educate our children.
None of this mismanagement was inevitable. Just a few years ago, when Mark Begich was mayor, he took heed of the recommendations in a report regarding the number of police officers necessary to protect a growing population (no longer 200,000 but over 300,000), and the Assembly approved expanding the police force by approximately 90 people.
During that time, the city embarked on important projects like the successful Dena'ina Center. And Sullivan? He tried to earmark money for tennis courts. This was a desirable recreational resource for many of our citizens but certainly not a priority.
It is also interesting to note that during each of Mayor Sullivan's budgets, he has informed the Assembly and the public of a budget shortfall. Really? And at the end of each year he flaunts a surplus? Yes, a surplus which occurs every single year when departments have unused funds appropriated by the Assembly. This has served as a means to build the city's Fund Balance -- a bank account to provide for good bond ratings and emergencies. But Sullivan's surpluses have been developed at the expense of laying off our employees and cutting services, so citizens continue to pay more taxes for fewer services.
Despite our differences, I have always respected Sullivan's authority as the CEO of our great city and have diligently made an effort to work with him on behalf of the 300,000+ citizens we both represent.
As the ads fly back and forth and we approach yet another election, I hope we can commit ourselves to restoring sound management in municipal government. We can't keep wasting money on cost overruns while cops get pink slips under Dan Sullivan.
Fortunately, Dan Sullivan is termed out and whoever becomes our next mayor should focus, first and foremost on the welfare of citizens of Anchorage -- period!
Elvi-Gray Jackson has served on the Anchorage Assembly since 2008.