Anchorage’s recently ousted municipal manager says her workplace had become “a toxic environment,” and that Mayor Dave Bronson fired her in retaliation for raising concerns about municipal agencies overstepping their legal authority, among other issues.
“The reality is, it’s because I articulated my concerns many times verbally — and now in writing. It was retaliation. Pure and simple,” she told the ADN.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the email that Demboski says led to her firing. But her concerns about overreach reportedly include the expansion of capacity at the Sullivan Arena emergency shelter without Assembly approval, unauthorized construction spending for the now-suspended homeless navigation center, and other contracting problems.
The mayor’s office announced the abrupt change in one of the highest appointed administrative positions in municipal government on Monday morning, with no explanation. The mayor’s office says it will not comment further because it is a personnel matter.
Demboski also admitted to the ADN that she used foul language to refer to the muni’s purchasing director around other top administration officials, which the Alaska Landmine first reported, citing unnamed sources.
At one of Demboski’s last official public appearances, she introduced Kent Kohlhase to Assembly members during a confirmation committee hearing for a director position.
“Kent has built a stellar career in public service, has an excellent record of accomplishments and is known to be an exceptional manager,” Demboski said on Friday. “The municipality is genuinely fortunate to have his knowledge and expertise. The administration is truly grateful that Kent is willing to accept this new role as the public works director.”
By Monday, Bronson had fired Demboski and named Kohlhase the acting municipal manager.
Because of the leadership shakeup, the Assembly on Tuesday postponed Kohlhase’s confirmation to lead Public Works until Jan. 24. Assembly member Meg Zalatel said it would have been an uncomfortable vote.
“I, in fact, don’t know what that means to be confirmed in one role and acting in another, just the logistics of that. … I think we need some stability and permanency in the administration, and right now, I don’t think we’d have that,” she said during the Assembly meeting. “I think we should give the administration time to adjust and decide what their plan is moving forward, unless they would like to tell us tonight.”
Bronson and his leadership team did not.
Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said Wednesday that she had not seen Demboski’s email, but said she wouldn’t be surprised if Demboski’s allegations were true.
“For the average person in Anchorage, you’re looking at this, going, ‘Why can’t this mayor keep employees?’” Quinn-Davidson said. “‘Why do employees keep getting fired with no explanation? Why do employees keep resigning, sometimes quietly? And why can’t this mayor run the city effectively with an effective team?’”
Since he took office in July of 2021, numerous high-level Bronson appointees have been hired, then fired or resigned. Joe Gerace, the city’s health director, resigned amid an investigation into his fabricated resume. An earlier acting health director, David Morgan, resigned after just over a month on the job, and the city attorney resigned after less than a year. Bronson’s first and second chiefs of staff also resigned. Several former employees have sued for wrongful termination.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the Assembly’s leadership called Demboski’s accusations alarming. They say personnel issues are beyond their purview, but they do plan to investigate any improprieties involving taxpayer’s money.
Also Wednesday, Demboski posted to her Facebook page appreciation for municipal employees and gratitude for being able to be a public servant.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when Mayor Dave Bronson took office. He was sworn in on July 1, 2021, not April of that year.