Anchorage ombudsman memo alleges employee monitoring from mayor’s office

Ombudsman suspects mayor’s office is intimidating city employees against filing complaints
Anchorage ombudsman memo alleges employee monitoring from mayor’s office
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 2:22 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess alleged in a memo sent Thursday morning that a municipal “executive” said Mayor Dave Bronson’s office was viewing surveillance footage of the ombudsman’s office to see which employees visited the office and spoke with members of the Anchorage Assembly.

In a memo sent to Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, Bronson, and Acting Municipal Attorney Blair Christensen, Hess said that he was referring the matter to the Municipal Prosecutor’s Office to determine if any violations of law or city code had occurred.

“Mayor Bronson takes these allegations very seriously. The administration is investigating these allegations,” Bronson spokesperson Corey Allen Young wrote in response to the memo.

“An executive with the Municipality had stated that the Mayor’s Office has been downloading copies of City Hall surveillance videos to see who is accessing the Ombudsman’s Office and interacting with Assembly Members,” Hess wrote. “Accusations of attempting to intimidate Municipal employees to discourage them from contacting the Ombudsman’s Office are serious, chilling accusations — even if no videos have been pulled.”

Hess wrote that he heard these allegations from multiple city employees, and said that he believes there may have been illegal activity, misconduct or a breach of duty from the executive who downloaded the surveillance footage. The letter also notes that the Anchorage charter states that “People of Anchorage have the right to the services of an ombudsman.”

“The Municipal Ombudsman’s Office was established in addition to other remedies or rights of appeal, as an independent, impartial municipal office, readily available to the public, responsible to the Assembly, empowered to investigate the acts of Municipal agencies and the Anchorage School District, and to recommend appropriate changes toward the goals of safeguarding the rights of persons and of promoting higher standards of competency, efficiency, and equity in the provision of municipal services (A.M.C. Chapter 2.60),” the city website says.

Anchorage ombudsman memo alleges employee monitoring from mayor’s office
Anchorage ombudsman memo alleges employee monitoring from mayor’s office(KTUU)

The memo comes just eight days after former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski alleged rampant inappropriate behavior and cited actions she believed were illegal in an 11-page demand letter penned by former Gov. Bill Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall — who currently works as an attorney at Cashion Gilmore & Lindemuth.

On Wednesday, Alaska’s News Source submitted a public records request for messages sent from Bronson’s deputy chief of staff between Dec. 19, the day former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski was fired and yesterday, Jan. 18. The request specifically asked for all emails, memos and text messages that contained words like “surveillance video” and “ombudsman.” Alaska’s News Source has not received a reply.

In the demand letter written on Demboski’s behalf, Kendall wrote that they believe the firing of Demboski to have been retaliatory. The letter also stated that they believe that sole-source contracts were improperly awarded, that municipal attorneys were pressured by Bronson’s staff to drop charges against the business partner of Larry Baker, and that Bronson permits a hostile work environment to exist, specifically referencing an incident involving lewd cookies.

Anchorage Assembly members responded to the letter released last week by scheduling a special meeting to discuss the allegations.

“Up until now, we’ve never had that and I think this just shows how much of a clown show this administration really is,” Assembly member Felix Rivera said. “This is a huge nail in the coffin of the political future of this mayor.”

In the memo released Thursday, Hess alleges that Anchorage employees fear that the Ombudsman’s Office is being monitored, and are therefore hesitant to visit the office or speak with assembly members in person.

“The employees perceive the alleged statements by the executive to be an attempt to intimidate them not to contact the Ombudsman’s Office,” Hess wrote.

The assembly meetings will take place today in the Assembly Chambers in the Loussac Library between 5-7 p.m. — and may include executive session that the public is not privileged to — as well as Friday, Jan. 20 between 3-5 p.m. at City Hall.

Clarification: This article has been clarified to reflect that the allegations are toward the mayor’s office and not a single municipal “executive.”