Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Turns out Dave Bronson is even worse at being mayor than we could have imagined
After being fired, Amy Demboski dropped a bombshell tell-most letter about her time in the Bronson administration. If only someone could've done something about it.
It’s Wednesday, Alaska!
In this edition: Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has been pretty suboptimal at his job over the past one and a half years, but it turns out that it was even more suboptimal than we could have imagined… and we’ve got a pretty active imagination. In a scathing 11-page letter penned on behalf of allegedly fired-for-saying-a-swear (about another employee in front of a bunch of other city employees) city manager Amy Demboski, we get a much fuller look at just how suboptimal Bronson has been. Let’s dive in and break down all the sordid details.
Current mood: 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️
Turns out Dave Bronson is even worse at being mayor than we could have imagined
When I wrote my year-end column earlier this week, I was tempted to put a section in there about how “It turns out far-right nuts like Dave Bronson make the best case against far-right nuts running government.”
It was a year that included the revelation that just about everything about Health Director Joe Gerace was a lie, the city’s treatment of the homeless people in a way that seemed hellbent on inflicting the maximum harm on Alaskans, that was filled with shady contracts and shady spending, and that would have been capped off by the city’s inability to clear snow if not for the firing city manager Amy Demboski.
At first, the explanation leaked to the blogosphere was that Demboski was fired for crass language aimed at another employee during a city meeting (which she doesn’t deny happening), but it seems like every week has continued to paint a considerably different picture of how everything came to a head. Today, though, we got our best look at the alleged (a word that is doing some heavy lifting throughout this story… seriously, it’s probably safe to add an “, allegedly” to the end of every sentence) trash fire that Anchorage’s City Hall has become under the leadership of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson in the form of a scathing 11-page letter penned by Scott Kendall (because why not) on behalf of Amy Demboski.
I’ll dig into the specifics of the accusations below, but first it’s important to lay out that this letter is seeking a settlement with the Bronson administration over what Kendall says is clearly retaliation against her for finally blowing the whistle on the administration’s shady dealings. And they are shaaaaaaaaady.
It’s also important to note that I doubt Kendall would be publishing these accusations if he didn’t have them as dead to rights as possible, a fact that he makes clear in the letter’s closing.
“As you consider the facts and analysis in this letter, please realize that the last, best hope for you to avoid litigation of these issues is to reach a prompt settlement with Ms. Demboski, issue a written correction and apology, and provide your signature on a binding non-disparagement agreement. Since you are personally aware of the facts above, you must realize how confident we are in our ability to prove these allegations,” Kendall writes. “Simply put, the factual and documentary evidence in our possession already is strong and will only strengthen following depositions of you and other members of your administration.”
Also, while the letter concludes by saying that “Here, the facts are clear: Ms. Demboski was not terminated for failing to do her job properly; she was terminated for doing her job too well” it’s also hard to overlook the fact that Demboski had been on the job for a year and a half, and it seems like little ever really changed along the way.
The goods: Alaska Public Media has posted the full letter for your reading here.
Anyway! Onto the allegations.
The Midnight Sun Memo by Matt Buxton is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
It turns out that being mayor has always been about funneling contracts to your buddies
I think we often look at administrations like Bronson and assume that there’s some kind of grand scheme going on here. That they’re playing some kind of 4D chess in pursuit of their ideological goals. But as is so often the case as of late, it seems a lot more like they’re governing by the seat of their pants, from crisis to crisis, all while making sure their buddies are collecting a check.
There’s four such accusations that fall into this category and three lead off the complaint:
Bronson illegally delegated “unlimited contract signing authority” to purchasing director Rachelle Alger (who was on the receiving end of Demboski’s bad language). According to the allegations, “You did so without Ms. Demboski’s consent, and without the approval of the Department of Law.” Bronson only relented on Oct. 18, 2022, when the Department of Law said it was never his to give.
The “senior policy advisor” position given to Bronson ally Larry Baker (a name that comes up throughout the 11-page letter) is particularly suspect. Demboski alleges that Bronson has basically pieced together a series of no-bid contracts with Baker that fall just under what would catch the Assembly’s attention. Per the letter, “The Mayor’s Office has intentionally executed at least three sole-source contracts with Mr. Baker for $29,500 each in almost immediate succession to one another, with only a three-day break between each. This disingenuous scheme is a clear violation of the law limiting the size of such contracts. We do not understand why you did not simply hire Mr. Baker as a municipal employee. One possible motivation for this scheme could be to defraud the PERS system—that is, Mr. Baker could act essentially as a municipal employee, while pretending to be a private contractor, allowing him to ‘double dip’—collecting retirement payments and contract payments simultaneously.”
A Bronson ally attempted to steer a “significant” contract to a friend, which included cornering one of the people on the steering committee and telling her she needed to “swing” the contract to this friend. She didn’t and the unnamed friend didn’t get the contract, but that wasn’t the end of it. According to the letter, “At this point your close associate complained to you about the employee who chaired the RFP panel, and you had that employee terminated. … You subsequently acknowledged to Ms. Demboski that your close associate asked for the termination, so you called the Human Resources director (that’d be Nikki Tshibaka) and asked him to arrange it.” This happened in August 2021, and it doesn’t appear to have resulted in action against the city, but per the letter, “Following this occurrence, you acknowledged to Ms. Demboski on several occasions that you made a mistake and should have never directed this termination.”
Bronson and his unusual relationship with Larry Baker continues on this front with Baker, who’s apparently just a senior policy advisor, taking on the role of personally overseeing the unauthorized spending of between $3.9 and $4.5 million in spending on the navigation center site. Both Bronson and Baker rushed the whole thing, failing to actually get Assembly approval to start work on the site with the contractors. Demboski told them it had to go to the Assembly for approval, which responded by voting it down and leaving a major question mark over both the already-completed work and the future of the project. But even that didn’t put an end to the project. Per the letter, “After the Assembly voted it down, Mr. Baker was still talking to the Maintenance and Operations director directly, and Ms. Demboski was forced to personally step in and direct the stop work order. Ms. Demboski was forced to go so far as to physically supervise the construction site, along with the Building Official and the Public Works Director to ensure the work was immediately stopped.”
Oh, and Larry Baker also apparently tried to steer real estate transactions towards properties Mr. Brandon Spoerhase (whose name will come up later). Per the letter, “Despite the appearance and actual impropriety of Mr. Baker advising you to give such financial benefits to his own business partner, you still considered such transactions.”
It turns out that Bronson directly ordered the fluoridation to be turned off
One of the earliest scandals to come out of Bronson’s city hall was the roughly five hours that the city’s fluoride supply was shut off. Initially, the city completely denied it happened at all before conceding that it happened, but the levels never dropped enough to fall outside of municipal code. Still, we never really got a clear accounting of what happened or who made the decisions.
Until now. Sort of.
“While on tour of the water treatment facility in Eklutna, you unilaterally directed the fluoride supply to be shut off. Upon your return to City Hall, a staff member who had accompanied you, as well as other employees, came into Ms. Demboski’s office and advised her what had occurred. Ms. Demboski went to your office and asked you about this issue. You confirmed that you directed the shut off. Ms. Demboski advised you of municipal code and explained that it was unlawful and beyond your power to turn off the fluoride supply. … This was one of many examples of you being unaware of the law, being unwilling to follow the law, or both.”
Hey! There’s a law about that on the books now.
It turns out that Bronson has some outdated and, frankly, shitty ideas about women
A full page is dedicated to issues with HR and a hostile work environment for women, including several nasty exchanges with Demboski. It didn’t stop there, though, and extended to an apparent effort to intervene in the municipal prosecution of Brandon Spoerhase (the guy with the shady real estate deals and a connection to Larry Baker) for a string of domestic violence crimes.
Per the letter, “Mr. Baker, with your support and blessing, attempted to influence a criminal prosecution to assist his friend and business partner, Brandon Spoerhase, who had been charged with a series of crimes related to domestic violence, stalking and violation of the terms of a protective order. The former municipal attorney, Patrick Bergt, reported to Ms. Demboski that he was approached by Mr. Baker—both during the transition and after the administration took office—to get these charges dismissed. … It was evident to Ms. Demboski that Mr. Bergt strongly believed that Mr. Baker was attempting to use his influence to convince Mr. Bergt to have the charges against Mr. Spoerhase dismissed.”
This pressure campaign also extended to Baker attempting to bar Demboski from offering a job to Mr. Spoerhase’s alleged victim. “As you know, Ms. Demboski resisted Mr. Baker’s request on the matter. Nevertheless, you continued to follow Mr. Baker’s guidance and allow him great influence over you and your administration.”
The other allegations detail how Bronson and company made life particularly bad for female employees at nearly every level, including allowing two senior staff members with a “very close relationship” to Bronson to run roughshod over the staff. That includes one of them apparently having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, “extremely inappropriate sexualized jokes” and included “passing out genitalia-shaped cookies to staff.”
As for the direct conduct towards Demboski, the letter details an exchange where she referred to a male subordinate’s email as “suboptimal” in tone. It apparently struck a nerve with Bronson.
“You chastised Ms. Demboski severely for this email,” the letter explains. “You raised your voice while showing her your hands held at different height to indicate that—because this subordinate is a man and Ms. Demboski is a woman—the male employee is ‘up here’ and Ms. Demboski is ‘down here.’ Two days later you had another meeting with Ms. Demboski in which you criticized her again, telling her that this subordinate employee ‘is a man’ and making clear to Ms. Demboski that she wasn’t to speak to a man ‘that way.’”
It turns out that Bronson knew changes to the Sullivan Arena shelter plan violated city code
No real surprise here, but it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get any more insight to what happened this summer with the Bronson administration bussing people to a bear-filled campground during one of the rainiest summers in recent memory.
It turns out that Bronson fancies himself as the rootinest, tootinest sheriff of Anchorage
Yep. Bronson’s weird relationship with Larry Baker extends to running over to his house with a gun… even though the police were already on the scene for “some sort of domestic disturbance.”
It turns out that Bronson isn’t afraid to continue using the city’s resources against his foes
Sounds like everyone is in the process of still digesting the bombshell that is this letter. It gives Bronson until next Wednesday to respond before they start with the potential litigation for wrongful termination, which would open a whole can of worms with discovery and depositions. The Anchorage Assembly—having passed an ordinance in July 2022 to remove the mayor for things far conduct far more mild than what’s detailed here—is reviewing the letter before taking next steps. The Bronson administration
is working on its next lie has yet to respond.