Anchorage Assembly members decry mayor’s equity measure veto as political gaslighting

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Anchorage Assembly member Chris Constant addresses members of the media at the Loussac Library on June 7, 2022. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Last week, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson vetoed an Assembly ordinance aimed at making the city’s Department of Equity and Justice more transparent and accountable about its work. 

Bronson’s executive appointees have been both complainants and alleged perpetrators of workplace discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits that have cost city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal settlements. In his veto message, Bronson said the department is already “firing on all cylinders.” Part of the department’s duties are ensuring compliance with workplace anti-discrimination laws. 

Anchorage Assembly members on Tuesday decried the mayor’s veto and overrode it in a 9-3 vote. Members Randy Sulte, Kevin Cross and Scott Myers voted no.

“This is called gaslighting,” said Assembly member George Martinez, one of the sponsors of the ordinance. 

a man sits in the assembly chambers
George Martinez sits on the Anchorage Assembly shortly after being sworn in on April 25, 2023. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Martinez was one of several Assembly members who fumed at Tuesday’s meeting over Bronson’s political rhetoric. Others highlighted the mayor’s hypocritical stances. They said they wanted more accountability from Anchorage’s Department of Equity and Justice, headed by the city’s chief equity officer, a job created in 2020.

“This office was created three years ago last month and zero reports,” Assembly Chair Chris Constant said during an Assembly meeting in September. “So at its heart, this ordinance simply says, give us a report.”

Bronson was not at the Assembly meeting on Tuesday. At the September meeting, he had called the Assembly’s ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.” 

A man in a dark blue suit with a multicolored tie.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks at a press conference held in downtown Anchorage on June 26, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

“There seems to be suggestions that we are not compliant, or not doing the job,” he said

In his veto message, he argued that the added requirements were burdensome to the department and taxpayers. 

Assembly member Anna Brawley on Tuesday said that if the department’s Office of Equal Opportunity is functioning well, it makes the city a better place to work and reduces the city’s liability from workplace lawsuits. 

“Those things cost everybody when we are not treating our employees well, when we create these situations, and then we have to clean them up later one way or another,” she said. “So we certainly want to stay out of court, and we want to be better to our employees.”

Bronson also took issue with some members’ interest in getting Anchorage certified as a Welcoming City. That isn’t in the text of the ordinance, though it mentions that it’s in keeping with the Welcoming Cities effort that Anchorage has participated in since 2014. It’s a movement aimed at facilitating inclusivity and cultural vibrancy

Bronson said getting the certification is like buying a product – from a nonprofit financially backed by the liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Soros is a frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories. 

Member Zac Johnson pointed out that the mayor signed on as a cosponsor of a resolution last month celebrating Welcoming Anchorage. 

“I don’t know how to square in my mind that in September he was happy to cosponsor a resolution speaking favorably toward Welcoming Anchorage. And then come out and veto an ordinance that really doesn’t have much to do with Welcoming Anchorage, but just the mere mention of it was enough to apparently lead him to veto,” Johnson said.

Member Felix Rivera was another sponsor of the vetoed ordinance. He addressed a Bronson critique that the ordinance created burdensome “additional data requirements.” 

“The data collection required of this ordinance is in fact part of the job description of the chief equity officer,” Rivera said. “And get this, this is the kicker: This data collection is included as part of the responsibilities of the Office of Equity and Justice in the mayor’s 2024 proposed budget. It’s literally in the budget.”

Anchorage Chief Equity Officer Uluao “Junior” Aumavae speaks with a teenager at a youth job fair in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood in May 2022. On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly overrode Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of an ordinance dealing with transparency and accountability in the office. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Martinez, the other Assembly sponsor, said data collection and analysis is fundamental to the department’s work. 

In September, Martinez read from the ordinance: “‘The chief equity officer shall establish, collect and evaluate equity baseline data. All right,” he said, pausing to clap and rub his hands together. “Where’s the equity baseline data? Can we have it?” 

Martinez said the Assembly can’t rely only on anecdotes and how officials feel about the department’s work. He said the Assembly needs measurable data for accountability and to address systemic inequities.  

Only one Assembly member who voted against the override spoke to his vote. Kevin Cross said putting the chief equity officer’s duties in code seemed like a formality. 

When asked about the veto override Wednesday, the mayor sent a statement through a spokesperson doubling down on his objections to the Welcoming City certification, which is not part of the ordinance he vetoed.  

He called becoming a certified Welcoming City a waste of tax dollars. And he raised privacy concerns about some of the program’s requirements and pointed to a California city’s experience with the certification process.

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Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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