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Anchorage Assembly confirms Joe Gerace as director of the Anchorage Health Department

Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace at Anchorage City Hall on Nov. 12, 2021.
Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace at Anchorage City Hall on Nov. 12, 2021.(Connor Matteson)
Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 7:38 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a special meeting Friday, the Anchorage Assembly voted to confirm Joe Gerace as director of the Anchorage Health Department, after allegations relating to his workplace behavior came to light earlier this week.

Members of the assembly and city administration leadership met Friday before the assembly went into executive session for several hours to discuss Gerace’s position as the acting Anchorage Health Department director. Gerace was appointed to the position by Mayor Dave Bronson in September after Bronson’s first pick resigned before he could be confirmed by the assembly.

Gerace’s confirmation hearing was scheduled for Nov. 9, but it was postponed when the assembly received several emails that they said brought up potential personnel issues with regard to Gerace.

Assembly members voted to confirm Gerace’s appointment 7-3 on Friday, with Meg Zaletel excused. The three assembly members who voted against the decision were Austin Quinn-Davidson, Felix Rivera, and Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, who said this decision for her was difficult and complicated.

“And I want to be very open, but I am still absorbing information,” LaFrance said before the vote. “I have not completed my process that I need to do to weigh everything. I understand there is a desire to move forward.”

Emotions did run high, as the assembly also brought in two people to participate in the executive session who spoke out against Gerace’s appointment earlier this week and were critical of his workplace behavior. The assembly received several emails regarding Gerace, some of which were obtained by Alaska’s News Source. The emails contained claims of sexism toward female employees, retaliating against employees, and creating a toxic or demoralizing work environment.

A member of Bronson’s administration earlier this week said the allegations were false, and that “they are a pure character assassination.”

Jennifer Wallace, a nurse who said she worked alongside Gerace at Visit Healthcare, was one of the people who wrote to the assembly. She was brought before the assembly members during the executive session. After the confirmation vote, she expressed her disappointment.

“I’m surprised that so many people, both men and women spanning multiple workplaces, brought up multiple concerns and that there was still so many yeses,” Wallace said.

But the others on the assembly agreed that Gerace is the right candidate for the job.

“And I would just like to encourage my fellow assembly members to put this behind us and lets confirm Joe, and let’s move forward and get our city on the right track,” said assembly member Jamie Allard.

Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia thanked the people who had brought information forward, and said it was important to complete this process the right way.

“At the end of the day I feel like Mr. Gerace is qualified for the job and should be confirmed,” Perez-Verdia said.

One of the emails sent to the assembly accused Gerace of a “lack of professionalism and decorum, misogyny, demoralizing communication and complete lack of vision and leadership.”

Vice Chair Christopher Constant said he tended to agree with Perez-Verdia that Gerace was qualified.

“I challenge you to, if confirmed, find a way to develop a relationship with your team,” Constant said ahead of voting to confirm Gerace.

After the meeting, a spokesperson for the Anchorage Health Department sent Alaska’s News Source a statement saying:

“The Anchorage Health Department thanks the Anchorage Assembly for their vote of confidence in Director Joe Gerace. His commitment to public health is second to none. Mr. Gerace is eager to continue serving the community at AHD.”

The health department is in charge of the city’s response to COVID-19, including testing and providing vaccinations and monoclonal antibody treatments. The department now also plays a large part in overseeing the city’s mass emergency care for those experiencing homelessness at the Sullivan Arena.

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