Opinions

Why did Mayor Bronson fire Anchorage’s chief equity officer?

Diversity and equity are important to our community. We celebrate our diversity as a community and have made real commitments to achieve a more fair and just community. One of those commitments was the creation of the Office of Equity and Justice to promote the Municipality of Anchorage’s commitment to fairness for all of our residents.

The recent personal attack against me by the municipal human resources director, who is also the husband of U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, is another glaring example of the Bronson administration’s attempt to distract public attention from their many instances of overreach and ignoring the rule of law for political gain. With his hit piece, Niki Tshibaka has taken public discourse in our city even lower than I could have imagined, and he should be ashamed of himself.

Attempting to characterize my efforts to hold the Bronson administration accountable as racist is laughable. Mayor Dave Bronson and Niki Tshibaka know full well that the firing of the duly appointed chief equity officer was illegal, according to Anchorage Municipal Code (AMC) 3.20.140, “Office of Equity and Justice.”

In light of Mr. Tshibaka’s unfounded accusations, I think it is important to remind folks of the nature of the role of the chief equity officer. The Office of Equity and Justice is modeled after the Office of Internal Audit, an organizational structure adopted in 1977 by the first mayor and Assembly of the unified municipality, which had the benefit of the Charter Commission. The process they crafted immunizes key functions of government from gross political power, allowing certain offices to report honestly and bluntly to both branches of government without fear of political reprisal and loss of their job. It is in the public interest for an auditor to have reasonable independence, and so it is with the Office of Equity and Justice. If we are going to make progress on the march to equity and justice, the chief equity officer must be able to tell difficult truths without fear of reprisal. This critical protection first created in the earliest days of the Municipality is in the public interest.

What the mayor did by firing Chief Equity Officer Clifford Armstrong III violated the code, which states, “The chief equity officer may be dismissed by the mayor only for cause shown, and only with the concurrence of a majority of the Assembly.” The unilateral firing by the mayor without cause usurps legislative authority and creates a situation where this officer is unable to fully carry out their roles and responsibilities objectively. It turns this protected position into an ordinary politically appointed department head, serving at will within the administration, at the pleasure of the mayor alone. When it comes to the challenging and important subject of equity and justice, we cannot accept this.

In their defense, the administration asserts that this code section violates the charter and they have filed a lawsuit to adjudicate their position. That is the proper process for resolving disagreements between separate but equal branches of government. The courts will ultimately decide whether the Assembly or mayor is correct in interpreting the code and charter.

But the administration didn’t stop there. Instead, they made the decision to ignore the code, and then take it another step by claiming to appoint a different chief equity officer to a position that hadn’t been vacated. Adding insult to injury, they have never bothered to submit the appointment to the Assembly for confirmation of their new candidate, as required by the same code section. Yet the Bronson administration’s position is the chief equity officer position does require confirmation. When?

It appears that if the Bronson administration doesn’t agree with the code or laws, they simply ignore them or twist them with some contorted interpretation.

Mr. Tshibaka’s attempt to create a distraction is understandable when put in context. Since October, the Bronson administration has committed a number of controversial actions that are currently under public scrutiny.

As we wrestle with the administration in the courts over the Office of Equity and Justice, we are also investigating the Bronson administration’s decision to change the chemistry of our drinking water, the alleged use of police force to enter a hospital to remove a patient for political gain, a reported shadow chain of command within the Anchorage Police Department and a host of other questionable actions. This explains why, for the first time in recent memory, an executive of the city administration would publicly and personally attack a member of the legislative branch. But the public can be assured that I and others will hold this administration accountable, so that the apparent attempts to break and violate the public trust are brought to light and those involved can be held accountable.

The common denominator in all of these is a disregard for the rule of law and a draconian approach to achieving the administration’s will. Mr. Tshibaka, the mayor and the principal executives in his administration need a reminder that the public interest comes before their own political agendas. Those who know me, whether they like it or not, understand that I will always take a stand against injustices no matter how big or small, especially when those actions are taken by our elected leaders.

Christopher Constant serves as vice chair of the Anchorage Assembly. He represents District 1, Downtown Anchorage.

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