“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost,” goes the famous proverb that starts with the loss of a horseshoe and ends with the fall of a kingdom. The chain of events the proverb relates is an apocryphal story meant to illustrate how small, seemingly inconsequential actions can have far-reaching effects — disastrous ones. There were no horseshoes present at the Anchorage Assembly meeting Oct. 7, but the actions taken by city manager Amy Demboski that night were a grievous breach of the public trust — one that should cause her to forfeit her position.
Oct. 7, the sixth night of public testimony on the Assembly’s proposed mask mandate, proved to be the high-water mark for discord between Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration and Assembly members. Members of the public opposed to the measure crowded into the Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library and hurled misinformation and threats, heckling testifiers who spoke in favor of Assembly action on masks and threatening members themselves. Midway through the meeting, members of Mayor Bronson’s team inexplicably removed plexiglass shielding between testifiers and Assembly members. They also ordered security guards out of the chambers. Given the circumstances, both of these actions — despite the superficial explanations offered by the mayor’s staff — were clear efforts to ramp up pressure on the Assembly.
And then something truly corrupt happened: City Manager Amy Demboski ordered Anchorage Fire Department Video Center Director John Crabb, who manages the meetings’ live-streamed feeds to YouTube and GCI, to cut those feeds. Crabb refused Demboski’s order, which was uncovered via a public records request and first reported by the Alaska Landmine. When an ADN reporter asked whether Demboski had ordered the feed cut, Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young was evasive, saying he “wasn’t aware” of an attempt to stop the livestream. A week later, asked again why Demboski had attempted to shut the feed down, Young said “the livestream was not shut down at any time,” answering not the question that was asked but perhaps the one he wished had been. To date, no member of Bronson’s administration — not the mayor, not Young, not Demboski herself — has offered any explanation for why she attempted to block the public from viewing the chaos in the Assembly chamber that night. Worse, they haven’t even acknowledged that the event, documented in writing by Crabb, took place at all.
Some might ask why Demboski’s action is so serious, given that her request was refused and the live feed of the meeting remained online. Here’s why: But for the courage of one man in standing up to the mayor’s second-in-command, the public might have been blocked from witnessing the most consequential night of public comment on the mask mandate. The urge to hide the ugliness of partisan fights within government from the voters and taxpayers runs directly counter to our representative democracy and public process.
Had former mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration attempted such a stunt when they were in office, Bronson and his supporters would have been rightfully enraged. Bronson’s administration, on the campaign trail and in office, has laid claim to the mantle of being more transparent and responsive to public concerns; Demboski’s action puts the lie to both of those.
It’s clear there is no possible benign or public-minded reason why Demboski would have ordered the Assembly feed cut. At best, it was an attempt to assert control over the resources of the Assembly chamber in an attempt to bring a coequal branch of government to heel. At worst, it was meant to shroud the terrible scene in secrecy, a clearly antidemocratic aim. Despite Demboski’s belief to the contrary, the old adage is true: Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Coupled with the cascade of firings and resignations still underway within the municipality, it has become blindingly apparent that Demboski is at the center of the dysfunction crippling our city government. If Mayor Bronson wants to accomplish any major part of his agenda and regain public trust in his administration, he can’t do it with Demboski at the helm.
If he expects to be able to credibly lead the city forward, the mayor should remove Amy Demboski from her role in his administration. Until he does, the public can’t have confidence that the antidemocratic measures she has taken won’t be repeated — or worse — in the future.