OPINION: Anchorage's government is more broken than you know. I trust Suzanne LaFrance to fix it.

I’m worried about our city government. Yes, it’s a bad sign when the roads get so bad that schools close for a week. But snow plowing issues are just the most visible symptom of deeper problems.

Many wonderful people work for the Municipality of Anchorage, putting in long hours, and doing a great job. But, behind the curtain, things are not well. Some telling examples: Over the past 2 1/2 years, the municipal attorney’s office experienced nearly 100% turnover. Virtually all the program leaders at the Anchorage Health Department have left. And leadership positions have been in a constant state of flux. In just three years, the current mayor has had five chiefs of staff; three (or, if you count career employees acting in the role, four) municipal attorneys; four (or, again, if you count long-acting career employees, five) Office of Management and Budget directors; and three chief fiscal officers. Suffice to say, this is not normal.

At the line-employee level, high turnover and vacancy rates create a lose-lose situation for Anchorage residents: we often get worse or delayed services and pay more for them when outside contractors get hired to do work at a premium. Last year, the administration asked to spend up to $2 million on outside private financial firms to help prepare annual reports that the city has produced in-house for as long as anyone can remember — probably since the Municipality came into existence.

Why is this happening? You’d have to be on the inside to know, exactly — but when the mayor’s Chief Human Resources Officer resigned last year, he cited “an increasingly toxic, hostile and demoralizing work environment.” Whatever the explanation: It ain’t good.

All of this means that Anchorage’s next mayor will inherit some significant problems — and fixing them won’t be easy.

The person in whom I place my trust — and who I personally know to be most prepared to take on the challenge — is Suzanne LaFrance.

Suzanne starts ahead of the field because she already knows the Municipality in a way that others don’t. We can’t afford another multi-year learning curve, and she won’t need it.


More than that, she’s unique among the current field of candidates because she’ll have available to her a deep bench of people who understand how the Municipality works — folks who know the executive branch well, who have worked with LaFrance before, and who would enthusiastically work with her again.

People who have worked with LaFrance tell a remarkably consistent story: Her leadership brings out the best in her team. She cultivates the kind of environment that motivates people to work hard; she listens, invites dialogue and debate, and asks hard questions, and when she makes a decision, you know it’s fully informed and well-considered.

I’ve seen this myself, working closely with LaFrance when she served on the Assembly, and I served as municipal attorney and municipal manager. From the beginning, I could tell that LaFrance is smart, thoughtful, curious and a quick learner. But time also revealed her impressive ability to remain focused — not on grandstanding or providing fodder for political blogs, but on making real improvements for Anchorage. She worked to establish the 3-1-1 phone line, parental leave at the Municipality, returning police services to Girdwood and Turnagain Arm, and life and safety access roads to help reduce Hillside wildfire risks, among them. In a setting where others can be driven by ego or partisan fighting, Suzanne didn’t get distracted. She focused on what mattered. During some of our city’s most challenging and divisive times, Suzanne focused on lowering the temperature and getting things done.

At a recent campaign event, I’m told volunteers shared why they showed up for Suzanne. One woman said that Suzanne used to be her manager at a company here in Anchorage. She hadn’t seen Suzanne in years, but their time working together had made such an impact that she was ready to go knock on doors in the cold to help get her former boss elected.

Anchorage hasn’t benefited from that kind of leadership in a while — and we desperately need it now.

Bill Falsey is an attorney in private practice in Anchorage. He previously served as Anchorage’s municipal manager (2017-2020) and municipal attorney (2015-2017).

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