Anchorage Ombudsman speaks about allegations of intimidation by mayor’s office while top executive is let go

Mayor Bronson’s deputy chief of staff no longer employed amid DA’s investigation
Anchorage Ombudsman speaks about allegations of intimidation by mayor’s office as it's announced that the mayor’s deputy chief of staff is no longer employed.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 7:08 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess spoke out Friday, one day after issuing a memo 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.

Later in the day, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s office issued a statement that his deputy chief of staff, Brice Wilbanks, is no longer working with the city. Hess won’t confirm whether Wilbanks was the source of the allegations.

“To hear it from multiple employees, to say, ‘I heard this with my own ears, and I feel intimidated, I’m afraid to come to your office, I had to meet somebody across town on a weekend’ or they’ll text, they’ll message me on Facebook because they’re afraid I have a municipal cell phone number, or they don’t want to come to our office, that’s not good,” said Hess. “It’s a serious matter and I will say I notified the administration and assembly leadership, and everybody took it seriously, the administration took it very seriously, they were concerned.”

On Wednesday, Alaska’s News Source submitted a public records request for messages sent from Mayor Bronson’s Deputy Chief of Staff Brice Wilbanks 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.

“I suspect, if this occurred, it was an employee who was trying to assist the administration and didn’t think of it as intimidation,” said Hess. “I looked at it, the administration looked at it, and we both came to the conclusion that videos were most likely not pulled, but just making that statement, you know, is intimidation and I think it’s just as egregious as actually pulling the videos.”

Thursday evening, Bronson spokesperson Corey Allen Young emailed a statement to Alaska’s News Source.

“Mr. Wilbanks is no longer employed,” the statement said. “Mayor Bronson takes these allegations very seriously and does not condone what has been alleged. Which is why in order to avoid any potential conflict it has been referred to the Alaska Department of Law. The Mayor remains committed to working on behalf of the nearly 300,000 people of Anchorage.”

Anchorage District Attorney Brittany Dunlop has confirmed that the DA’s office has received the ombudsman’s referral. The case is now being reviewed by the office of special prosecutions within their criminal division, which handles public corruption cases.

They’ll review the case to determine if a crime was committed and whether it’s a civil matter, or if no further steps should be taken. If it’s determined a crime was indeed committed, the investigation and prosecution could take months or even years. If they decide it’s a civil matter, that decision could come much sooner.