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Anchorage Assembly amends Bronson’s proposed executive branch reorganization, keeps library as separate department

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 8:21 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In reviewing and approving a proposal from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration to reorganize the structure of the executive branch, the Anchorage Assembly opted to keep the Anchorage Public Library as its own separate department, and made a few other changes to the administration’s proposal.

Bronson’s administration had brought forward a proposal for changes in the executive branch organization in the form of an ordinance before the assembly. This is not uncommon for new mayors but those changes, which have to be approved by the assembly, are normally approved at the same time as the city budget.

During a special meeting on Tuesday, the assembly rejected a part of the proposal that would have made the Anchorage Public Library a division under the Department of Parks and Recreation. Assembly members passed an amendment introduced by assembly member Forrest Dunbar that restored the library as a separate department.

“This is a pretty simple amendment,” Dunbar said. “It just restores the Anchorage Library to department status. In this reorganization, the library department is absorbed into the parks department and turned into a division.”

Bronson, though, did not favor this change. He asked the assembly when in recent history the assembly has made changes to this degree to an incoming mayor’s organizational chart.

“I’d like to know in the historical context, when the assembly has made changes to this degree, or to any degree in an administration’s organizational chart,” Bronson said. “We’re trying to comply, but we don’t know what you want.”

Dunbar said assembly members have gotten emails from constituents who wanted the library to remain as its own department, and a letter from the Anchorage Library Foundation.

“I think there is a lot of opposition to this absorption of the library into the parks department,” Dunbar said. “Within the budget, it didn’t show any savings or reduction in personnel, and I believe the library has been functioning well as a freestanding department.”

The Library Advisory Board also passed a resolution opposing the idea of making the library part of parks and recreation.

Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said the administration believed a synergy could be achieved by merging the two departments in this way, saying that they already work closely together.

“By bringing the library in as a division of parks and rec, Josh (Durand, director of parks and recreation) believes that he really can leverage both departments and create a better synergy and make it a little more user friendly for the public but frankly a more efficient operation,” Demboski said.

Ultimately, the amendment to keep the library as a separate department passed with an 8-3 vote, with assembly members John Weddleton, Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy voting no.

The second amendment was introduced by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and Vice Chair Chris Constant, and it restored language to the code that gives the assembly power over the chief equity officer’s appointment, dismissal only for cause, and dismissal only with concurrence of the assembly. The proposal from the Bronson administration would have changed that position so that it reported to the mayor and not the assembly.

“The purpose of this amendment is to restore the code language for the office of equity and justice, and the structure that was originally enacted by AO 2020-79S, including the status of dual responsibility to the assembly and the mayor,” LaFrance said.

The question was raised by Allard about how this would impact the ongoing litigation between Bronson and the assembly over who has the authority to fire the chief equity officer. Bronson recently sued the assembly over the separation of power dispute, after firing and replacing the city’s first chief equity officer.

“I don’t know that it necessarily impacts the litigation,” said Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt. “I mean obviously this issue is at dispute and there are substantial disagreements between the executive and the legislature on whether or not you can have for cause protection on department directors, and that’s the subject of the lawsuit and I suspect that a court will be issuing a ruling on it fairly quickly given the circumstances.”

The amendment to restore the chief equity officer position to the way it’s established in city code passed 9-2 with Allard and Kennedy casting the two no votes.

The third amendment introduced by LaFrance, Dunbar, and Austin Quinn-Davidson retains the proposed organizational structure under the Community Development Department, but will return proposed divisions to departments. Bronson’s proposal had sought to convert a number of city departments into divisions instead.

City charter states that all appointed heads of municipal departments are subject to confirmation by the assembly. By not changing these departments into divisions, the confirmation process that has been used through multiple administrations is maintained.

That amendment passed 9-2 with Allard and Kennedy again voting no.

As the assembly voted on their total of four amendments, Bronson vetoed three of them immediately after they were passed. The assembly then immediately overrode each of his vetoes, keeping their changes intact. In the end, the amended ordinance was passed 10-1 with Allard voting no.

Some assembly members noted the challenge presented by the fact that this organization structure ordinance came before them after the budget had already been passed.

“This organizational chart that the administration presented to us was a draft that came to the assembly for approval,” Quinn Davidson said. “If they have made myriad changes on the back end, significant impacts on employees will come and they’ll have to remap and her words, the whole system, that means they’ve made a bunch of changes without out approval.”

“But it shouldn’t impact the overall amount of the budget, it shouldn’t impact the services delivered to the people of Anchorage, and overall I think the process went reasonably well. The mayor asked for a variety of changes, the assembly agreed with the vast majority of them,” Dunbar said.

Reporter Megan Pacer contributed to this story.

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