The Quiet Mayor: Bronson continues to avoid discussion of City Hall departures

Mayor won’t answer questions from Assembly, news media or the 907 Initiative on a range of issues
The Quiet Mayor: Bronson continues to avoid discussion of City Hall departures
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:06 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For more than two months, Alaska’s News Source has been trying to arrange an interview with Mayor Dave Bronson to discuss a range of issues facing the municipality — including a number of high-level departures from City Hall — as well as questions over how Anchorage tracks pandemic grants funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act program.

During the same time period, Anchorage Assembly members have grown increasingly frustrated with the mayor’s reluctance to address questions, and a group calling itself the 907 Initiative has ramped up an ad campaign targeting Bronson.

One of the recent ads from the 907 Initiative asked the question: “Why won’t the mayor tell us what’s going on? Perceptions of incompetence and corruption at City Hall are costing Anchorage money and eroding trust. Residents need to contact Mayor Bronson and ask him to publicly address the allegations against his administration.”

Aubrey Wieber, executive director of the 907 Initiative, would not specify where, or from who, the nonprofit raises the money for its’ media campaigns. The 907 Initiative calls itself “a watchdog group” and it does not have a requirement to reveal its donors.

This week, the group sent out another mailer, grading Bronson’s performance. It gave him failing grades on ethics and transparency, and on dealing with the homeless issue, but a “B” on issues concerning the Port of Alaska.

For his part, Bronson has not engaged with the ad campaign and the mayor has repeatedly turned back attempts by members of the Anchorage Assembly to question him about hiring and firing issues, employee retention, and more general questions about perceptions of his administration.

At a Feb. 7 Assembly meeting, Midtown representative Meg Zaletel tried asking the mayor about the investigation into the city’s former health director, Joe Gerace. The questioning came after it was discovered Gerace had allegedly fabricated his resume and Bronson promised to investigate.

But, the mayor refused to discuss it.

“That is an HR issue and I think you should know that,” Bronson said. “I know you feel differently, but the facts are the facts and this is an HR issue.,”

“Alright, well thanks for the opportunity to ask the question, Madam Chair, but apparently I’m not going to get a response. Thank you,” Zaletel responded.

West Anchorage representative Kameron Perez-Verdia also tried pressing the mayor for answers at that same session.

“Your administration is crumbling and I’d like to hear from you as to what’s going on and what you’re doing about it,” Perez-Verdia asked.

“We’re not going to talk about this matter, these HR matters in a public forum,” the mayor insisted.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance chastised Bronson at that same meeting over the mayor’s reluctance to answer questions.

“To say the least, it’s very, very upsetting. This is a very serious situation and forgive me, yes, I’m very upset,” LaFrance said. “I think it’s time that you address us all and tell us what the heck is going on with your administration.”

During the Feb. 21 Assembly meeting, Zaletel again tried to get the mayor to answer a question, this time about hiring and retaining employees. Bronson tried to defer to his acting municipal manager. Zaletel pushed back.

“Actually, Mr. Mayor, again, I’d like to hear from you,” she said.

“I know we’d all like a lot of things, but again we’ll go to the expertise to answer that question,” Bronson responded. “That will be Mr. Kohlhase.”

“I don’t need an answer then if the mayor can’t do so,” said Zaletel.

Since Dec. 19, 2022, the day it was announced that Anchorage Municipal Manager Amy Demboski was out of a job, Alaska’s News Source has been trying to get answers from the mayor himself about her claims, about American Rescue Plan Act pandemic grants and about general City Hall comings and goings of top aides.

There was a brief exchange between the investigative crew and Bronson after a Salvation Army event that day. An Alaska’s News Source reporter asked him as he was leaving if there was anything he could say about the resignation of Demboski and others.

“Nope, Nope, Nope,” Bronson replied.

On Feb. 3, reporters with Alaska’s News Source went to a news conference scheduled by the mayor to unveil a new CPR phone app.

Investigative reporter Mike Mason tried repeatedly to question the mayor with no luck.

“OK, so you’re just not going to talk to us?” Mason asked.

“Yep, Mike. This is about something else,” Bronson responded.

Alaska’s News Source has requested interviews with the mayor more than 15 times and has not been granted an unrestricted interview. We offered Bronson an opportunity to appear on the Political Pipeline podcast, unedited. We have not received a positive response yet, but that offer has remained open.

The mayor’s communications team and Bronson himself have consistently told Alaska’s News Source and the Assembly that he has been advised by the municipal legal team not to discuss personnel issues. However, it has never been clear why that prohibition would stop him from answering general questions about City Hall and municipal government.

Julia O’Malley, President of the Alaska Press Club and longtime Alaska journalist, says elected officials have a responsibility to take tough questions from the news media.

“It makes it difficult, more difficult to hold someone accountable when you can’t find out what they’re doing,” O’Malley said. “Again, the public has a right to know what people who work for the public are doing; how they spend their money, how they behave, all of that stuff, they work for us. So they have to let us know.”

“It’s just basic accountability,” O’Malley continued. “The media is just asking on behalf of the public, how is government functioning? And so when a public official does not answer the question, you have to think to yourself, ‘OK, well, who’s benefiting from that?’”

Alaska’s News Source will continue to offer Mayor Dave Bronson opportunities to answer questions both on our news programs and in our podcasts.