The lawsuit brought by former municipal manager Amy Demboski against Mayor Dave Bronson, as evidenced by the civil complaint filed this week, is a barn-burner. The complaint didn’t introduce major new claims, instead mostly fleshing out those unveiled in a January letter that threatened the lawsuit in the first place. But the litany of what Demboski alleges took place at City Hall — gender discrimination, retaliation, violations of whistleblower protections, an inappropriate workplace relationship, defamation and unlawful termination — is disheartening and, if it can be substantiated, places Bronson (and therefore the municipality, which is also a defendant in the suit) in significant jeopardy for fiscal damages.
The bad behavior Demboski alleges is serious, and members of the Assembly have cited that seriousness and the high public interest in the alleged misdeeds in the mayor’s office as justification for refusing to settle with Demboski. Clearly also a factor is the Assembly majority’s interest in seeing a potentially embarrassing and politically damaging process stretch out, dogging Bronson’s hopes for re-election in April. Unfortunately, pushing on to trial is also near certain to be the most expensive path for the municipality, and thus all of us who pay property taxes.
When it comes to wanting a public accounting of the facts of what’s been taking place at City Hall, we’re at the head of the line, having demanded answers about the various debacles that have taken place during the past few years. But at this point, it’s not clear what a trial would accomplish with respect to bringing clarity to the situation. Demboski has been clear about what happened at City Hall, and at this point, are any of us surprised?
Certainly, there would be a discovery process in the course of a civil suit. That’s where, in an ideal world, documents that substantiate or refute Demboski’s claims would be brought to light. However, the discovery process would likely be long and expensive, given the breadth of the allegations against the municipality, and as the records involved should be public documents, they should be available to the public (or, at the very least, to a watchdog such as the office of the ombudsman) without the rigamarole that a full trial would entail. What’s more, many of the allegations Demboski has made turn on oral conversations and statements that, presumably, weren’t recorded. And much as we would like to have been in the room where it happened, whose account you believe is likely to be defined largely by who you already find more credible — Bronson or Demboski, both of whom have axes to grind against one another.
And the truth of the matter is that when it comes to Bronson’s fitness as mayor, whatever revelations a trial brings would be unlikely to change many minds. Anchorage residents who have been paying attention to the news since 2021 cannot possibly have missed the chaos that has ensued under this mayor — bizarre episodes where city code has been flouted, mass turnover at the highest levels of the administration, poorly considered and hastily implemented policies that have hamstrung efforts to deal with the city’s most important issues. That should be enough for residents to have already rendered their verdict on Bronson and his administration — and, for those who still back the mayor, it’s unlikely that an embarrassing trial or any further indignity that takes place between now and April would sway those who remain steadfast in their support.
If this suit was brought between two private parties, it would be settled, and that’s the most responsible action the Assembly could take on behalf of municipal taxpayers. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to further embarrass the mayor ahead of the April election is not a wise use of public funds — especially when he’s proven more than willing to do it himself for free.
Anchorage will already be responsible for a substantial sum in a settlement to Demboski; there’s no need to throw good money after bad by dragging the process out as long as possible. Rather than continue to refuse to settle, the Assembly should bite the bullet and accept the settlement cost as inevitable. There’s no reason that a public accounting of all the documented information involved couldn’t be a condition of that settlement — and then the city could spend the additional money, time and effort that would have been devoted to a trial on something more worthy, such as improving snowplow response during the fast-approaching winter.