Contractor sues Anchorage for unpaid work on shelter

A mirrored building.
Anchorage City Hall. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

The contractor that was halted part way into the construction of a homeless shelter and navigation center for the Municipality of Anchorage is suing to get paid. 

Roger Hickel Contracting filed the lawsuit Tuesday – which was news to the Anchorage Assembly when the mayor’s Chief of Staff Adam Trombley brought it up at a meeting Friday

“Roger Hickel filed suit against the municipality on Tuesday,” Trombley said. “It was served through the clerk’s office, so I’m not sure if you guys were aware of that or not. I just didn’t want you to schedule a work session on the settlement when they’ve decided to sue the municipality.” 

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said they had not been notified of the lawsuit. She said in a text message after the meeting, “We’re going to talk with our attorneys to identify next steps.” 

In its lawsuit, Hickel says it wants to be paid for the nearly $2.5 million of work it did last year, plus damages to be determined.

Both Mayor Dave Bronson and the Assembly had wanted to head off this lawsuit with a settlement. But Bronson wanted to pay Hickel unilaterally. The Assembly balked because it controls the city’s pursestrings, and administration officials have not been able to answer Assembly members’ questions about the botched contract. 

Last week, the Anchorage Assembly blocked payment to Hickel, pending a meeting with the administration to vet the settlement. They’ve had more than a month to arrange that, but still have not set a meeting. 

Just six days before Hickel filed its lawsuit, acting Municipal Attorney Anne Helzer told the Assembly that if the contractor did sue, the city would be in a bad legal position.

“The entire legal department came together, and said, ‘This is a valid bill. If we are sued, we will lose,’” Helzer said at an Assembly meeting on March 22. 

Before the Assembly stopped construction on the shelter, Hickel said, it had cleared the site near the intersection of Tudor and Elmore roads, created connections for underground utilities and partially built a foundation. Hickel describes the city’s conduct as “unreasonable, unfair, willful and in bad faith.” 

Hickel’s lawsuit stems from dysfunction in the mayor’s administration and its relationship with the Assembly. It started last year when the administration authorized Hickel to begin construction without Assembly authorization. That came to light last fall, and the Anchorage Assembly suspended the project

In its complaint, Hickel says that Saxton Shearer, director of operations and maintenance for the municipality, authorized and signed off on the work. However, former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski has alleged that Shearer was acting under the specific direction of the mayor and his senior policy adviser Larry Baker, in knowing violation of city code. 

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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