I worked for the Municipality of Anchorage for six years (December 2015 to November 2021), and I absolutely loved working there. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave when I did, as I love my community and the people who live here, and I love the municipality as government entity. It was a dream come true for me to work for such a well-run city and have the opportunity to be on the front lines, making my community a better place and serving my neighbors. In my time at the Muni, I worked with many city departments, and I met incredible employees who cared for their city and were as committed to service as I am. The people who work for the municipality are incredible, and nearly all of them bring a passion for service and community that is truly inspiring.
It might come as a surprise to some, but when former mayor Ethan Berkowitz and acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson came into office, neither of them made big shake-ups to staff. As a result, the city was filled with apolitical public servants who couldn’t care less about politics and just wanted to make the city a better place. Staff and directors who had worked with many administrations on both sides of politics. And with the Muni full of experienced and well-treated staff, we were accomplishing really great things — new trails, new libraries, improvements in housing and homelessness, strong bond ratings and finances, long-needed repairs to municipal facilities, and innovation in our employment practices, utilities and economic development.
That is why it is so utterly disappointing and sad for me to see what has become of the city in less than two years since. Experienced and caring public servants were pushed out the door in favor of ideologues with no experience running government — or even running anything at all. Community volunteers who wanted to continue their service on the municipality’s many boards and commissions were told they were no longer needed and they were replaced with campaign donors, or worse yet, not replaced at all. Our city’s boards and commissions, a place where caring community members can get involved and lend their expertise to improve the city, are languishing, some nearly empty. Important projects that would benefit the city have been paused or scrapped altogether. It seems like the current administration deemed anything created under previous administrations to be immediately wrong, even if the projects were desired by the community and developed by nonpartisan public servants and community volunteers.
What’s hardest to hear are the reports of employees working in toxic environments with cruel supervisors, no direction or vision from above, and backlash if they don’t carry out the administration’s outlandish plans. So many talented and experienced employees have left, and the ones who remain are experiencing challenges unimaginable in most workplaces. Those who have stayed because they feel a duty to keep the city going are heroes. They are the librarians teaching our kids to read, the health workers providing immunizations, the public safety officers and attorneys who keep our city safe and fair, the finance staff who pay the bills, the human resources team who support our valuable municipal employees, the frontline workers who keep the lights on, the buses running, the streets plowed, the trash collected and the trails maintained, and the countless others who work behind the scenes to help the rest of us live our busy lives. I hope our community gives them the thanks and respect they are owed.
To those municipal employees who have stuck through all of this and continue to provide top-notch service to our community – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know it hasn’t been easy and that you’ve sacrificed a lot, but please know that your service is not unseen. You are so important, and our community needs you. I hope that there are better days ahead and you can go back to doing your valuable work without drama or hassle.
I have faith that we will survive this current crisis because we have one of the best local governments in the country. It has been built through years of hard work by very smart and dedicated people. We can get it back on track. But it will take the community to get involved and pay attention to what is going on in our local government. Follow the local news. Read up on candidates and issues and vote in elections. Hold elected officials accountable. Attend community meetings. Apply for municipal boards and commissions. Volunteer for organizations. Make some cookies for your neighbor who works for the municipality. Check out books from your library. Play on your trails. Call the mayor and hold him accountable for what he has done to our city.
Our municipality functions best when we all work together, put politics aside and treat everyone in our community as our neighbor. When we stop doing these things because we think others will take care of it, we allow our community to be taken advantage of by people who put themselves before the community and use our municipal resources for their own personal gain. I truly hope we can all come together to stand up for our city and get our local government back on track.
Audrey Jo Malone is an Anchorage resident and strategic budget officer. She worked for the Municipality of Anchorage for six years as a budget coordinator for the Anchorage Public Library system and as Emergency Operations Center Finance Chief for the municipal Office of Emergency Management during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.