Anchorage mayor and Assembly at odds over contracts signed without input

two men speak inside an empty arena
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, right, visits the floor of the Sullivan Arena in this photo posted to the mayor’s Facebook page on Nov. 3, 2023. (Courtesy of Anchorage Mayor’s Office)

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Assembly members sparred again Tuesday in another turf battle over contracting authority.

This time, it was over the Bronson administration entering into a contract with a third-party to run three city-owned ice rinks – most notably the Sullivan Arena – for up to a decade without Assembly or public review.

Municipal Attorney Anne Helzer said the mayor had the legal authority to sign the contract. The Assembly’s top attorney, Dean Gates, said it was not clear cut.

Under the city charter, any action to “convey or lease, or authorize the conveyance or lease, of any interest in lands of the municipality” requires an Assembly ordinance. The city code also says that contracts valued above certain dollar thresholds require Assembly approval.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Assembly and administration debated an ordinance to retroactively ratify the contract.

Assembly Chair Chris Constant said the mayor had usurped the Assembly’s authority. 

“Did the mayor sign a contract to give land for 10 years to a third party without Assembly approval?” he asked. 

Bronson apologized for leaving the Assembly in the dark.

“I’m sorry I didn’t notify ya,” he told the Assembly. “I should have, yes, as a matter of courtesy. But we were not compelled to. If we were compelled to, we would have done that.” 

Bronson also pressured the Assembly to approve the ordinance, fearing the contractor would sue the city if it were delayed and terms of the contract were renegotiated with Assembly input.

The administration is working to get the Sullivan Arena open for sports and other events after it was used as an emergency mass shelter, starting in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So this is not about you, and I do apologize, you get to sit through this horrible conversation,” Constant said, addressing the contractor. “This, my friends, is the cost of incompetence.”

Constant said he supports bringing hockey and other events back to the Sullivan Arena, but that’s not what the debate was about. He said it’s as if the city code and charter don’t matter to Bronson, and that there was nothing the Assembly could do about it. 

The Assembly narrowly voted not to postpone acting on the ordinance, which passed 8-3 after a lengthy debate. Constant, Meg Zaletel and Felix Rivera voted no. 

O’Malley Ice and Sports Center, LLC, will continue to operate the Sullivan, Ben Boeke and Dempsey Anderson arenas. The latest contract took effect in July. Profits will be split with the city.

The Assembly is expected to vote at its Nov. 21 meeting on code changes to clarify that other contracts like this one require Assembly approval. 

This is at least the third time the Assembly and the Bronson administration have publicly fought over a significant contract after it was executed.

Last year, the Bronson administration greenlit a $4.9 million construction contract without Assembly approval to build a mass shelter and navigation center on city land at Tudor and Elmore roads. Construction was halted, the contractor sued the city and taxpayers paid a $2.5 million settlement.

And in 2021 during the pandemic, the administration arranged a rent-free lease with a business owned by Bronson campaign donors to run a monoclonal antibody clinic out of a city-owned property, the former Golden Lion Hotel.

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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