Anchorage Assembly sues Mayor Bronson to force disclosures about former health department head 

A mirrored building.
Anchorage City Hall on a sunny day. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

On Friday, the Anchorage Assembly filed its lawsuit against Mayor Dave Bronson, trying to force the disclosure of records related to a former department head who fabricated many of his professional qualifications.

The Anchorage Assembly authorized the lawsuit against the administration in February. It had tried for months to get the administration to share its investigation into how Joe Gerace was hired to lead the Anchorage Health Department. 

Mayor Dave Bronson has maintained that his administration legally cannot disclose the documents or discuss the matter because city codes and the state constitution’s right to privacy guarantee confidentiality of personnel records. 

Of Friday’s development, mayor’s spokesperson Corey Allen Young said in an email, “The administration is reviewing the appeal and will follow the legal process as required.” 

In its appeal to Anchorage Superior Court, the Assembly argues that the records sought are not personnel records at all, and therefore aren’t confidential.

There are two specific records the Assembly wants: a January 2023 memo “styled as an investigation” of Gerace’s tenure, and a September 2022 document “styled as an investigation” that the January memo was based on. 

The administration did share the January document with the Assembly in a closed-door executive session, but not publicly. After that session, several Assembly members accused the administration of using the confidential session to hide the lackluster investigation effort from the public. 

“This is just such a farce,” Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said during a Feb. 7 meeting. “If you were to see – and someday you will – what they don’t want to show you, it has absolutely nothing in it. And that’s why they don’t want you to see it. ‘Cause they want you to think they were doing more than they were, which was nothing. No investigation, basically.” 

Bronson announced in August that there would be an “in-depth and thorough investigation” into Gerace’s hiring. 

Gerace resigned at the time as Alaska Public Media and American Public Media were exposing his false professional credentials, which included an inflated military rank and college degrees he didn’t earn.

Separately, the Assembly has repeatedly asked Bronson to publicly address concerns about his leadership, amid the procession of executives resigning or being fired, toxic workplace allegations, misuse of city funds and illegal overreaches of executive power. Bronson has repeatedly declined, lumping these wider concerns under the umbrella of confidential personnel matters. 

Bronson has three other lawsuits pending against him from former municipal employees. 

  • Heather MacAlpine, the former director of the Anchorage Office of Equal Opportunity who was fired last May. MacAlpine is suing in state and federal court, alleging wrongful termination and retaliation for carrying out her duty to investigate workplace complaints against a Bronson appointee. 
  • Christina Hendrickson, the former real estate director who was fired in September 2021. In her state court case, she alleges she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing. 

Two earlier lawsuits were resolved in 2022 that stemmed from Bronson’s firing without cause of former Chief Equity Officer Clifford Armstrong III. Armstrong sued and reached a settlement that included a $125,000 payout. At the same time, Bronson sued the Assembly over the ordinance that created the position, arguing the Assembly overstepped its authority by putting the position beyond the mayor’s authority to hire and fire at will. A state judge sided with the mayor

The threat of another major workplace lawsuit or settlement looms from former City Manager Amy Demboski. Demboski was abruptly fired in December, she claims in retaliation for speaking up about city agencies overstepping their authority, among other things. Through an attorney, she laid out 11 pages of legal and ethical lapses under the mayor’s watch. She’s seeking a settlement. 

The cost of fighting and settling these cases falls on taxpayers. Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson addressed it during last week’s Hometown Alaska.

“You know, when you see Mayor Bronson engaging in activities that over and over again has people suing the municipality, which is happening at a rate I’ve never seen, that can cost taxpayers more money,” she said. “So there’s a real cost to the actions he’s been taking.”

Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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