Clerk accuses Anchorage mayor of using city website to influence election

two people shake hands on a stage with a few other people in the background
Dave Bronson (left) is officially sworn in as mayor of Anchorage by municipal clerk Barbara Jones (right) on July 1, 2021, at the Marriott Anchorage Downtown hotel during a breakfast fundraiser for Bean’s Cafe. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage municipal clerk has accused the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson of using city resources in an attempt to influence the outcome of the recall election targeting Assembly member Meg Zalatel.

At issue is a message the muni webmaster was instructed to add to the top of the city’s homepage. It isn’t overtly political. It just says there’s an upcoming special election in District 4 and mail-in ballots are due Oct. 26.

Clerk Barbara Jones outlined her objections in a letter Monday to Bronson’s chief of staff, Amy Demobski, and IT manager Marc Dahl. The letter says that only the clerk’s office has the legal authority to conduct outreach and education regarding city elections. She didn’t say who ordered the banner, but she says it wasn’t her office, nor was anyone on the clerk’s election team notified. Jones also says an election banner of this type is unprecedented. 

The notice, highlighted here in red, appeared at the top of the municipality’s web page. Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones says the administration appears to be using city resources for election outreach and education, which she says only the clerk’s office has authority to do.

“This elevates the notice of this Special Election beyond any historical customary notice provided in the history of the Municipality,” she wrote. “It is clearly intended to influence this election.”

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The mayor’s office did not respond to an email with questions about the web announcement. But in an email to Jones Tuesday afternoon, Demoboski said the administration has made no attempt to influence the election and was only providing residents a way to find out about the election, by linking to the clerk’s election information page.

Demboski turned the accusation around: “The reaction of the Clerk’s office leadership creates an appearance of bias,” Demboski wrote, “which leads me to question your objectivity, or ability, to conduct and oversee this election in a neutral manner.”

Jones has been municipal clerk since 2012. The banner remained in place Tuesday, despite an email the deputy clerk sent to the webmaster Friday asking for it to be removed.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.