Politics

Outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce subject of ‘credible’ harassment claim, borough Assembly says

Charlie Pierce

Outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, a Republican candidate for governor, was asked to consider voluntarily resigning from office after a borough employee made a “credible” harassment claim against him, according to a statement issued Sunday by the borough Assembly.

Pierce announced in late August that he would resign at the end of September, ostensibly to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Political website the Alaska Landmine, citing anonymous sources, had posted a story saying his resignation followed an employee’s harassment claim against him, but officials did not confirm the harassment claim until Sunday.

The Assembly unanimously voted in a special meeting held Sunday not to release an investigation conducted in July by an Anchorage law firm into Pierce’s alleged harassment. Assembly members said keeping the complainant anonymous would help ensure that borough employees would feel comfortable in raising workplace complaints with HR in the future.

After a 90-minute executive session, the Assembly instead issued a statement describing that in late July, borough attorney Sean Kelley received the law firm’s report which corroborated the complainant’s account and “found the claims credible.”

The Assembly held two executive sessions Aug. 23 and agreed to set settlement ranges and pay up to $10,000 in mediation costs to negotiate with the unnamed employee, the statement said. The goal of the ongoing mediation process has been to avoid the costs associated with a “threatened lawsuit.”

“The settlement ranges will not be disclosed because disclosure could negatively impact Borough finances and opportunity for early resolution of this matter,” the borough Assembly’s statement said.

One option discussed during the mediation process was for Pierce to consider voluntarily resigning to resolve the dispute outside court and allow the borough employee a “meaningful return to work opportunity.”

Pierce announced four days after the two executive sessions were held that he would resign as mayor. Later that week, Kelley disclosed that there had been a confidential human resources investigation at the borough, but he declined to confirm if the mayor was the subject of it.

Assembly members have been tight-lipped about the July investigation into Pierce’s alleged conduct, citing confidentiality rules. Some Assembly members have been frustrated that they couldn’t speak publicly about it or the events leading up to the mayor’s resignation.

Pierce has not responded to repeated requests for comment by the Daily News about the harassment allegations. He also did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

In his five years as mayor, Pierce has been the subject of two settlements paid to borough employees. In 2019, Sandra “Stormy” Brown, the borough’s former human resources director, received a $150,000 settlement after alleging that she was fired by Pierce when she revealed her terminal cancer diagnosis.

KINY, a Juneau-based radio station, obtained public records earlier this week of a second $117,000 settlement paid last year to another borough employee. The documents state that the employee would accept the settlement figure and withdraw allegations of “illegal acts” by Pierce related to their employment and “allegations of bullying.”

On Sunday, the Assembly chambers were split between testifiers confused why the meeting was considered an emergency and needed to be held on a weekend and those who were concerned about the allegations made against Pierce. Some cited a conservative website, which claimed Sunday’s emergency meeting was a “diversionary tactic” because of the hurried way that interim Mayor Mike Navarre was appointed earlier in the week to replace Pierce.

Navarre, a Democrat, told KDLL, a Soldotna-based public radio station, that he considered himself a caretaker until a special election can be held. He has been borough mayor twice before, as well as serving in the Alaska Legislature for 11 years. He was confirmed on a 7-2 vote.

Pierce and running mate Edie Grunwald finished fourth in August’s primary election. Pierce has not participated in recent gubernatorial debates since announcing his resignation, including one held last week on the Kenai Peninsula.

Several organizers of upcoming debates said he has not responded to invitations, has not been invited to participate or that he said the debate clashed with a prior engagement. He recently posted one campaign event to social media, which is scheduled for mid-October.

Despite the anonymously-sourced reports of a harassment claim against him, Pierce declined to drop out before the state’s withdrawal deadline on Sept. 5 to make way for fifth-place vote-getter Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, meaning his name will appear on the general election ballot in November.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.

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