Anchorage’s former real estate director is suing Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration, alleging she was illegally fired after she made a whistleblower complaint to the Assembly.
Christina Hendrickson began her tenure as the Anchorage real estate director in July. She was chosen by Mayor Bronson and approved by the Anchorage Assembly.
She was fired in September, shortly after she made a whistleblower complaint to the Assembly regarding how fellow municipal employee Jim Winegarner was hired. She filed a legal complaint against the Bronson administration on Tuesday, alleging her firing was in retaliation.
Bronson had named Winegarner as acting chief housing officer around the same time Hendrickson was chosen as real estate director. The chief housing officer is funded through a grant from Rasmuson Foundation, which also has to approve whoever is selected.
A spokeswoman for Rasmuson Foundation said that the organization did not approve Winegarner’s selection as chief housing officer, nor did anyone from the Bronson administration reach out to get approval.
Instead of paying Winegarner with the grant, as the municipal code lays out, he was paid through the mayor’s budget, said Hendrickson.
She said Winegarner was later placed into her department, without her approval, as a land management officer, with added duties as the executive director of the Heritage Land Bank.
“Mr. Winegarner started signing his emails as acting chief housing officer, acting executive director of the Heritage Land Bank, and called himself a land management officer,” Hendrickson said.
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Hendrickson said the placement of Winegarner in her department was against municipal code rules that required her consent for that transfer. Additionally, she said, the Heritage Land Bank position wasn’t one that could be granted unilaterally by the mayor. The Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission is supposed to approve the executive director.
“There’s a specific chapter of code dedicated just to the Heritage Land Bank, with a whole subsection on how you hire the executive director of the Heritage Land Bank,” Hendrickson said. “And none of it was followed.”
Officials with the Heritage Land Bank Advisory Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
Hendrickson said she expressed her concerns to her direct supervisor, Adam Trombley. Trombley is the director of Office of Economic & Community Development. Hendrickson said he told her that Bronson officials had decided to keep Winegarner in his position.
“Mr. Trombley told me that it had been conveyed to him by the Bronson administration that this was a campaign promise,” Hendrickson said.
In a whistleblower complaint to the Anchorage Assembly on Sep. 15., Hendrickson said she felt the Bronson administration wasn’t following various municipal codes.
The following day, Sept. 16, Hendrickson went to work like any normal day, with meetings both in-person and offsite.
“At 4:00, I was locked out of my email,” Hendrickson said. “At 5:30, I received notice from a fellow employee that Mr. Winegarner had been named real estate director. And then on Friday morning, the 17th (of September), at 9:30, to my personal email I received my termination letter.”
Hendrickson compared her firing to that of Clifford Armstrong III, who was terminated by the Bronson administration earlier this month. She said in both instances, the employees had raised hiring concerns with the administration and were fired shortly after.
“And then when you dismiss someone like myself or Clifford Armstrong who bring employment matters into question, and try to get clarity on them,” Hendrickson said, “if that’s what’s out in the public and that’s what’s known, and yet you shut everyone else up because you fired those two, what are you not hearing about?”
Officials with the Bronson administration did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
The Anchorage Assembly is set to vote on whether or not to confirm Winegarner as real estate director at the next Assembly meeting on Oct. 27.