The Anchorage Assembly approved three emergency ordinances during a special meeting Friday in response to allegations made against Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration by the city ombudsman, as well as former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski.
The ordinances approved Friday lower the dollar amount for contracts that require Assembly approval, clarify the authority of the municipal ombudsman and allow people who are serving expired terms on community boards and commissions to continue to serve for longer.
Demboski was fired last month by Bronson. In a letter from her attorney, she alleges that she was fired in retaliation for her expressing concerns over alleged unethical and unlawful actions by the mayor. Among the concerns brought up in the letter were issuing contracts and approving work on expensive projects without Assembly approval, as well allegations of sexism and a hostile work environment.
The Assembly held an executive session with their attorneys Thursday night to discuss their legal options to address the concerns laid out in Demboski’s letter. Like all executive sessions, the meeting was closed to the public.
Midtown Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel said the ordinances brought forward after the executive session are meant to ensure city code is followed as the body reviews the allegations made in the letter more thoroughly.
“While we take the time to look into the allegations much more fully, there are some things we need to do to ensure proper and orderly government and protect the municipality, both as to its workforce and to its finances,” Zaletel said.
A spokesman with the mayor’s office said Bronson is still reviewing the changes.
As emergency ordinances, all three required nine Assembly members to vote in favor to be enacted.
Zalatel was an author of one of the ordinances, which temporarily changes the dollar amount in contracts that would require Assembly approval. Under current law, contracts over $500,000 that are awarded after a competitive bid process must get Assembly approval. Additionally, the Assembly must approve sole-source contracts larger than $30,000 and contracts awarded to governmental agencies or private non-profits that are larger than $50,000.
The ordinance changes all of those dollar amounts to $10,000. Zaletel said the ordinance makes city spending more transparent to the Assembly.
“If you’ve been following along with the Assembly for the past six months, you’ll have seen a number of corrections to contractual items,” Zaletel said. “A lot of confusion as to whether contracts are being done correctly. And then that coupled with the allegations in Ms. Demboski’s letter, it’s really just to create more oversight in the meantime.”
Concerns in Demboski’s letter include an instance of three subsequent contracts just under the current $30,000 limit being paid out to Bronson’s senior advisor Larry Baker. Additionally, in October, the administration admitted that it had amended a contract from $50,000 to almost $5 million for work on a proposed East Anchorage homeless shelter and navigation center without getting Assembly approval.
Ahead of the Friday vote on the ordinance, it was amended to also state that any monetary legal settlements made by the municipality that are over $10,000 must also come before the Assembly.
The amended ordinance was approved by a 10-2 vote. Members Kevin Cross and Randy Sulte were opposed. The emergency ordinance will last 60 days.
Another ordinance brought forward after Thursday’s executive session clarifies the authority of Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess’ office as to what city records it can access. The ombudsman’s office is an independent organization charged with investigating actions made by the municipality and the Anchorage School District.
Current law states that the ombudsman should have access to municipal records. The emergency ordinance explicitly adds language to clarify that those records include personnel files and human resources records.
Hess has been investigating numerous complaints made against the Bronson administration in recent months. Hess sent a memo Thursday to the mayor and Assembly chair that highlighted concerns made by city employees alleging that administration staffers were monitoring City Hall security cameras to see who was visiting the ombudsman’s office and speaking with Assembly members.
Zaletel said the emergency ordinance clarifies what access the ombudsman has to conduct investigations.
“I think the ombudsman is likely very busy right now, particularly with complaints from municipal employees,” Zaletel said. “[We’re] wanting to make sure that office can fully do its job.”
Assembly members also voted 10-2 in favor of that ordinance Friday, with Cross and Sulte voting against it. The emergency ordinance will last 60 days.
A final ordinance brought forward allows for members of city boards and commissions whose terms expired in October to continue to serve until April, or until a replacement is appointed.
The ordinance expresses concerns that numerous boards and commissions, such as those related to equal rights, zoning and employee relations, have or will have vacancies that will prevent members from having a quorum to meet. In the ordinance, Assembly members say the body “does not have the immediate capacity to provide the level of the oversight needed to ensure that qualified people are properly appointed.”
The ordinance on boards and commissions was approved unanimously.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that all three ordinances passed the Assembly during their special meeting on Friday.