Anchorage Assembly confirms acting chief equity officer as lawsuit with Bronson administration continues

Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 8:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly confirmed Uluao “Junior” Aumavae as the city’s chief equity officer at Tuesday night’s meeting — though that’s not what some members had proposed.

Assembly leadership had brought forward a resolution that would allow Aumavae to remain in his acting position with the city until a lawsuit over who can fire the chief equity officer could be resolved. Anchorage city code prevents people from serving in acting roles for more than 60 days without being confirmed by the assembly, unless the assembly passes a resolution that “it is not in the best interest of the municipality to enforce the limit,” according to a Tuesday press release from the assembly.

Before the assembly could get to that resolution, members voted to change the order of the day to move up a memorandum for Aumavae’s confirmation to the position, which was also on the agenda.

“I want to be clear, any attempts to stall his confirmation are purely partisan political attacks that do nothing to unite our community,” said Mayor Dave Bronson, who tapped Aumavae as chief equity officer in October. “Yes the assembly and I have had our differences regarding the chief equity officer position, but the ongoing legal matters between us have absolutely no bearing on Junior’s employment with the muni, his current position as chief equity officer, and his ability to be confirmed here tonight.”

Anchorage’s first chief equity officer, Clifford Armstrong III, has already settled his lawsuit against the city after he was fired and replaced by the Bronson administration in October. According to the press release from the assembly, that settlement was $125,000.

However, Bronson is still suing the assembly over the right to fire the chief equity officer. According to the section of city code that was established by the ordinance the assembly passed back when the position was created, the chief equity officer can only be fired by the mayor “for cause shown, and only with the concurrence of a majority of the assembly.”

Bronson did not provide cause when firing Armstrong, and assembly leadership objected that the firing was not valid.

His administration has countered that city charter gives the mayor the power to dismiss any city position that is appointed by the mayor. The relevant section of charter states that people “appointed by the mayor serve at the pleasure of the mayor.” Bronson’s administration has argued that the assembly violated city charter when it created the ordinance that established the chief equity officer position.

Through the proposed resolution, the assembly would have allowed Aumavae to remain as the acting chief equity officer until the lawsuit between Bronson and the assembly is resolved.

Instead, after asking Aumavae several questions, the assembly voted unanimously to confirm him as the chief equity officer. Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson was absent, so the vote was 10-0.

Initially, member Felix Rivera said he’d feel more comfortable postponing the confirmation vote until after the assembly could have a formal confirmation hearing, but after hearing from other assembly members, he voted to confirm Aumavae.

Assembly member John Weddleton said he views the ongoing litigation over the position with the Bronson administration and permanently filling the role as separate issues.

“I think they’re really separate issues. I don’t think one has to wait for the other,” Weddleton said. “That court case should go through, it’s an interesting case. I think it’s something the courts need to decide, it’s an important point. But this is separate.”

Weddleton also said the assembly has had an opportunity to observe Aumavae performing in the job for several months now.

In addressing the assembly, Aumavae, who was born in American Samoa, explained how a chief equity officer intervened in college when he was having issues at school and faced having to leave, and how that intervention helped him be able to stay.

“It was because of those reasons I was able to get qualified to continue to play football and then also continue to be the first one in my family to graduate college,” Aumavae said. “And with this position that I’m in, it’s exactly what he did for me is what I look to do for the community here in Anchorage. Not for the mayor, not for the assembly, but for the people where I grew up, where I was raised here in Alaska.”

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