Anchorage Health Director resigns, accused of falsifying credentials
Mayor announces investigation into city’s hiring practices
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An investigation by city hall began today into the hiring of Anchorage Health Director Joe Gerace, who resigned suddenly Monday.
Gerace was hired less than a year ago and he was put in charge of responding to the ongoing COVID-19 situation and growing homeless crisis in Anchorage.
His unexpected resignation came just as a joint investigation by both Alaska Public Media and American Public Media led to allegations that Gerace lied about his education and military experience.
“This is what this administration can claim as their legacy,” Anchorage Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.
Constant says Assembly members rely upon the city’s Human Resources Director, Niki Tshibaka, to screen applicants’ information and they’ve never double-checked that process.
“There was one point in the record of the conversation where the HR Director took it upon himself to chastise members of the assembly for suggesting that there was anything wrong with this individual and his resume, and it’s amazing those words will come back to haunt him because they’re his words,” Constant said.
Emma Jacobson says it’s about time the truth came out. She’s a registered nurse and says Gerace fired her when they both worked at Visit Healthcare, a national healthcare provider with centers in Anchorage. She says last May Gerace became suspicious when she started looking into his background. She says she discovered he did not have several health certifications he claimed were on his resume.
When she heard Anchorage was hiring him as the city’s Health Director, she spoke up.
“I repeated that this man was not qualified for this position by education, by his professional experience and that there were too many discrepancies,” Jacobson said.
She says, at the time, nobody paid much attention, except for assembly member Jamie Allard, who later called her up.
“She accused me of lying and, ‘how dare I say these things about this good man’ and, ‘I’d better watch my back or they’re going to come after me’,” Jacobson said. “They were stated threats.”
When reached by Alaska’s News Source for comment, Allard emailed her response.
“Everyone one of us, whether an elected official or a member of the public, we all must be accountable to seeking the truth and stating it factually,” Allard wrote. “I base my decisions on what is presented before me and there is nothing unusual for me to have a follow up conversation with a community member. Six other Assembly members voted to confirm Mr. Gerace, it leads me to question if this is politically motivated.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Dave Bronson announced in a press release that an investigation would take place, looking into Gerace’s hiring and the hiring practices of the city by the HR department.
“Upon hearing the shocking news yesterday about Joe Gerace, I immediately tasked the municipal manager’s office and Human Resources Department to investigate the hiring of former Anchorage Health Director Joe Gerace,” Bronson wrote. “I expect an in-depth and thorough investigation into this matter, and HR hiring practices moving forward.”
The investigation is expected to take a week or two.
“I would implore them to remember that these decisions they’re making impact our entire community and when we’re putting people in charge we need to make sure that they are the right people,” says Jacobson.
Mayor Bronson announced Gerace’s hiring in a brief press release in September of last year, giving him a job that paid around $120,000 a year.
In the initial release, the Mayor lauded Gerace’s qualifications, including the claim that Gerace held a Masters of Business Administration with a focus on Supply Chain Logistics and Operations. The American Public Media and Alaska Public Media joint investigation found that degree did not exist.
Gerace’s resume also listed him as being a member of the Alaska National Guard, but Alaska Public Media reports the Guard told them Gerace is not a member. He spent roughly 10 months as the city’s Health Director, taking over COVID policy and was deeply involved in the city’s decision this summer to shutter Sullivan Arena as a shelter for homeless residents, months before a new shelter was ready.
Monday afternoon, just before the critical news investigation came out, Mayor Bronson issued a statement announcing Gerace’s resignation. It quoted the outgoing Health Director’s reason for leaving his job as being the result of a stroke,
“While working and he (I) spent three days in the hospital as a result. Today, after suffering another event, and being transported by ambulance to the hospital, I recognize the need to focus on my health first and foremost,” Gerace said in the release.
The Mayor’s statement on Monday made no mention of the questions surrounding Gerace’s resume and qualifications. The Anchorage Assembly will meet to discuss how to move forward with Gerace’s replacement and the city’s hiring process during their rules committee meeting, which is set for this Thursday.
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