OPINION: Are the Bronson administration’s mistakes a sign of corruption or incompetence?

Anchorage Assembly, mask, covid-19, pandemic

Dave Bronson’s tenure as mayor has been a whirlwind: scandals, lies, incompetence and head-scratchingly poor decisions. Bronson and Municipal Manager Amy Demboski have prolifically beat the public over the head with misdoings to the degree that it feels normal. Turn off fluoridation of the water? Odd choice, but OK. Refusing to implement the approved budget? How’d that work out? There is a laundry list.

Few issues from the Bronson administration have the gravity of the botched hiring of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace. In hiring Gerace to run one of the largest and most impactful city departments, the administration failed to identify him for the con artist he clearly is.

Bronson missed that, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski missed that, and “Chief Human Resources Officer” Niki Tshibaka missed that. They missed that he didn’t actually have the two masters degrees he claimed, and that he isn’t actually a credentialed paramedic. They even missed that he isn’t a member of the National Guard. In fact, he has been misrepresenting himself for years.

These claims should have been easy for the administration to fact-check, but when a former employee of Gerace’s questioned the purported work history, Tshibaka called it “assassination” of Gerace’s “sterling character.”

We know all this because of the excellent reporting from Lex Treinen of Alaska Public Media and Curtis Gilbert of American Public Media, who spent weeks doing what Tshibaka is paid tax dollars to do: fact-checking Gerace’s resume.

Not only did Dave Bronson hire a con artist, he hired one so predictably bad at his job that they bungled the Bronson administration COVID-19 response, which resulted in shutting down testing sites and otherwise pretending the pandemic didn’t exist. People died because of this. He also oversaw the homelessness response, which consisted of shutting down the Sullivan Arena and busing people to a campground in bear country without any services. The campground, miles from routine services, continues to be a nightmare. A woman went into labor there recently. Just this week, another person died.

Some say the Anchorage Assembly dropped the ball because we voted 7-3 to confirm Gerace as Health Department director despite credible testimony in opposition. I voted to confirm him in part because of the browbeaten narrative that the Assembly’s sole objective was to spitefully stonewall all Mayor Bronson’s objectives. I also voted yes because I wrongly assumed that the information provided to the Assembly by Bronson and Tshibaka was accurate. That won’t happen again.

The Gerace scandal is shocking, but when you step back, it’s clear that one of two things occurred. Either Bronson and Tshibaka knew Gerace was inflating his credentials but didn’t care, or Dave Bronson’s self-styled “Chief Human Resources Officer” Tshibaka failed to do the most basic of background checks. Corruption or incompetence.

And what is their proposed remedy? Investigating themselves. Really?

Well, rest assured, I will be even more vigilant from here on out. I will scrutinize Mayor Bronson’s decisions with renewed vigor, because it’s now abundantly clear, nearly half way through his term in office, he and his administration cannot be trusted to work on behalf of Anchorage residents.

Christopher Constant is the vice-chair of the Anchorage Assembly.

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