Harassment claims against former Kenai borough mayor confirmed at special assembly meeting

Special meeting reveals former Kenai borough mayor resigned to harassment complaint
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 3:01 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2022 at 9:48 PM AKDT
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SOLDOTNA, Alaska (KTUU) - Harassment claims by a former Kenai Peninsula Borough employee against recently-resigned Mayor Charlie Pierce were confirmed Sunday at a special borough assembly meeting.

During the special meeting, the assembly presented a statement that revealed the investigation into reported allegations of harassment by an unnamed employee of the borough against Pierce. The statement read that since no external complaint was filed in an “administrative forum or court of law,” it was investigated as a confidential matter under a human resources policy.

“As with any confidential personnel matter, I am not at liberty to discuss this issue,” Pierce wrote in an email through spokesperson Colleen Roque on Monday. “My resignation was planned contingent on the primary election results and was communicated over 5 weeks ago.”

The assembly said the borough hired the Anchorage law firm Ashburn & Mason to investigate the matter.

“On July 26, 2022, Ashburn & Mason provided its confidential investigative report the Borough Attorney that corroborated the complainant’s report and found the claims credible,” the statement read.

The statement said the borough assembly went into an executive session during its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 23, to “provide the Borough Attorney specific direction to participate in mediation and direction” regarding costs of the investigation, as to not exceed $10,000 that would be owed by the borough.

“The settlement ranges will not be disclosed because disclosure could negatively impact Borough finances and opportunity for early resolution of this matter,” the statement read. “In an effort to avoid costs associated with a threatened lawsuit, the confidential mediation will attempt to reach a resolution of the reported violation of the Borough’s Bullying, Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention Policy.”

Pierce announced his resignation as Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor on Aug. 26, three days after the executive session. In the initial announcement, Pierce explained that he was stepping down to focus on his run for governor, a race he joined in January 2022. The official results of the August primary left Pierce and running mate Edie Grunwald in fourth place with just over 6.5% of the vote, enough to give the duo a spot on the November ranked-choice ballot.

Pierce did not withdraw his candidacy for governor by the Sept. 5 deadline, and will thus be included on the gubernatorial ballot during the November general election. Pierce wrote in the email that he has been actively campaigning. Through Roque, Pierce wrote that he is preparing to travel to Southwest Alaska to campaign and that he would shortly announce his participation in debates as well.

Pierce released a statement on his campaign’s Facebook page, but did not acknowledge or address the reason for his resignation at any point in the two-page letter dated Sept. 9 and released on Sept. 11.

“In the August primary, I was honored to be voted in the top 4 candidates for governor,” Pierce wrote. “Now I must devote my full attention to that contest. Ideally, the 5-week notice I provided the borough assembly will be enough to ensure a smooth transition to an interim mayor. As I leave the office of mayor, my reflections on the past five years are coupled with feelings of accomplishment and gratitude.”

This article has been updated with additional information.

Correction: This story has been corrected. Personal has been corrected to personnel in the quote in the third paragraph after it was spelled incorrectly in the original email.