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Anchorage’s first chief equity officer files lawsuit against the city saying his firing was without cause and invalid

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 11:06 AM AKDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2021 at 2:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -The city’s first chief equity officer, Clifford Armstrong III, struck back Tuesday after being fired by Mayor Dave Bronson.

Armstrong filed a lawsuit against the Municipality of Anchorage, saying that his firing wasn’t legal.

“I do think we’ll leave it to a judge to decide,” Armstrong said on Tuesday.

“The (municipality) acted intentionally in a manner that a reasonable person would regard as unfair by purporting to terminated Plaintiff without cause from the position of Chief Equity Officer of Anchorage in a manner contrary to the legal description of the position in (Anchorage Municipal Code) that Plaintiff reasonably relied upon when he accepted the position,” the suit states.

This is the latest in the ping pong back-and-forth between the Anchorage Assembly, the mayor and Armstrong about who has a right to fire the chief equity officer.

In claims for why he filed the suit, Armstrong says the chief equity officer “shall be appointed by the mayor with the concurrence of a majority of the assembly,” and that “the chief equity officer may be dismissed by the mayor only for cause shown, and only with the concurrence of a majority of the assembly.”

In a response Monday night to assembly leadership asking for Mayor Bronson’s grounds for firing the city’s first chief equity officer, Anchorage Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt said that elements of the ordinance that created the position in the first place violate the city’s charter.

In a memo, Bergt wrote that parts of the ordinance the assembly passed establishing the chief equity officer position “clearly violates the Charter and the separation of powers doctrine” because it creates “for cause” protection for the position.

The assembly members previously wrote that they were advised by the assembly’s legal counsel that the firing is not legally complete. They asked Bronson to forward his grounds for cause for firing Armstrong to the assembly by Oct. 27.

Armstrong was appointed by then acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in April. Part of his job was to promote equity and opportunity within the municipality, as well as work with the mayor’s office to ensure community representation and to help create opportunities for communities of color, the disability community, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ+ residents and more.

Armstrong was fired by the Bronson administration Oct. 7 and replaced by Uluao “Junior” Aumavae.

In his personnel file, which Armstrong provided to Alaska’s News Source, no reason is given for why Armstrong was fired. The mayor’s office has repeatedly said Armstrong serves at the pleasure of the mayor and that they can’t talk about the firing because it’s a personnel issue.

The assembly and Armstrong strongly disagree.

“Plaintiff (Armstrong) has not been terminated with cause and his termination has not been approved by the concurrence of a majority of the assembly,” the suit says.

It goes on to say, “declaratory judgment that the mayor and the MOA’s attempt to appoint a replacement chief acting officer is invalid.”

Armstrong is requesting damages including back pay and benefits since the date of his termination, attorneys fees and other costs.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a quote from Clifford Armstrong.

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