EDITORIAL: Bronson must come clean on alleged corruption

Fired Municipal Manager Amy Demboski dropped a bomb Wednesday in the form of a laundry list of alleged misdeeds by Mayor Dave Bronson and others in the inner circle of his administration. The letter to Bronson threatening legal action, which ran 11 pages long, was a breathtaking itemization of corruption, cronyism, mistreatment of employees and willful misuse of public funds. A few of the items listed corroborate previous reports of improper behavior, like the direct order from Bronson to turn off the fluoride supply to the city’s water in violation of municipal code. But a stunning number were previously unknown to the public.

Demboski’s claims are deadly serious and deserve an immediate, complete and transparent accounting from Bronson and his administration. Unless the mayor can refute the allegations, publicly and convincingly, there is no way he can maintain the public’s trust — and may be in legal jeopardy.

The veracity of Demboski’s allegations has yet to be determined, but it must be said that as Bronson’s right hand — the person who “runs the city,” in Bronson’s own words — she was in a unique position to have personally witnessed or been aware of the malfeasance she alleges Bronson oversaw and in some instances perpetrated. Since Demboski’s firing in December, Bronson and his allies have already been casting doubt on her version of events, painting her as an ax-grinding partisan who was difficult to work with even for those ideologically aligned with her. That may itself be true, and Demboski has certainly engaged in bad behavior herself, which merited her removal before now. But it doesn’t negate the seriousness of what she charged in her letter to the mayor, and the public deserves to know where the truth lies.

Bronson, Larry Baker and the other administration figures who Demboski implicated in her letter have yet to comment, saying that they can’t do so because of pending litigation. Frankly, that’s an obvious and deficient excuse to avoid a public explanation, and Anchorage residents shouldn’t stand for it. The administration has also stonewalled efforts to acquire documents that could shed light on the situation, like Baker’s contracts with the municipality — which are public documents, and which ADN reporters requested nearly a month ago. The administration’s intentional and improper concealment of these records is a willful violation of Alaska’s public records laws — made especially egregious by the municipal ombudsman’s statement that making them available as required by law would take all of 15 minutes.

The longer the mayor and his cronies dismiss these allegations with a simple “no comment,” the more believable they will become in the eyes of the public. Ask yourself this: If someone had falsely claimed in public that you did the things Demboski has said the mayor did, would you decline to comment? Most of us would surely jump up and down, screaming about their untruth at the top of our lungs. Bronson’s silence is deafening.

To fully get to the bottom of the charges levied by Demboski, Anchorage residents are owed not just an explanation from the mayor, but also an investigation from the relevant authorities at the local and state (and, if the alleged conduct warrants it, federal) levels. The conduct Demboski has described would go significantly further than the violations of municipal code that have already taken place in the administration, and if crimes were committed, charges should result. So far, Assembly members — even those who have been most critical of Bronson — have recognized the seriousness of the situation and refrained from jumping to conclusions or turning this into another chapter of the ongoing battles between the municipality’s executive and legislative branches. For the public to be satisfied that the goal of an investigation is fair and not politically motivated, complete transparency is key.

It’s hard to recall when allegations this serious were made within an Anchorage administration by someone in a position to have been privy to the government’s inner workings. Residents need a full, transparent accounting of what’s been going on within the Bronson administration — and they need it now.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit feedback, a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.