Assembly threatens litigation against Bronson administration for contracting approval dispute

Mayoral administration owes Roger Hickel Contracting $2.45 million for costs of homeless shelter construction
Assembly threatens litigation against Bronson administration for contracting approval dispute
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:16 AM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 5:56 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is threatening litigation if Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration pays a private contractor without Assembly approval.

Assembly leadership revealed its intent in a meeting Wednesday night, a continuation of Tuesday’s regular meeting. The night featured two surprise laid-on-the-table resolutions.

Midtown representative Meg Zaletel introduced a resolution centering on an unpaid contract between the Bronson administration and Roger Hickel Contracting, which was chosen to build the Navigation Center on Tudor Road.

An invoice from Roger Hickel Contracting states that the municipality owes the business $2,459,101.92 for “work completed for the Navigation Center.” It states that just over $2 million has already been paid.

The resolution passed 9-2, with only Eagle River/Chugiak representative Kevin Cross and South Anchorage representative Randy Sulte voting against it. It will allow the Assembly Council’s Office to initiate litigation if members decide to move forward with legal action.

At Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting, Zaletel and Vice Chair Chris Constant had asked Mayor Dave Bronson and his administration multiple times if he planned to pay Hickel Contracting by Friday’s deadline.

Bronson answered that he “intends to follow the law.”

On Thursday afternoon, the Bronson administration responded to the Assembly’s actions regarding Roger Hickel Contracting, saying he would not be able to pay the business the $2.45 million they are owed.

“Based on the decision last night by the Assembly to withdraw the $4.9 million in previously appropriated funding for the proposed Navigation Center and Homeless Shelter on Tudor and Elmore, I am unable to pay the claim submitted by Roger Hickel Contracting, Inc for this project. I hope the Assembly will work with us to settle this dispute as quickly as possible,” Bronson said in a statement.

Zaletel pointed to that answer as a reason for her laid-on-the-table item Wednesday, which authorizes the Assembly to pursue legal action if the administration pays Hickel without Assembly approval.

“I want to underscore the importance of this, because this goes to the heart of the separation of powers, the role of oversight with the legislative branch, and the importance of following code,” Zalatel said. “We know we got here because code and procedure was not followed.”

AO-2022-105 is an ordinance passed by the Assembly last year that requires any settlements by the municipality to be first approved by Assembly leadership.

“I’m under a deadline — that’s Friday,” Bronson said. “Someone get me to... the lawyers get me to an answer. I’ll do that, but I don’t think this is something that’s settled between us because it becomes political. This end of the table needs to figure this out and whatever they figure out I can run with, I honestly can.”

“I look forward to a resolution to this,” Acting Municipal Attorney Anne Helzer added. “I have assured Assemblyman Constant in emails today through his attorney, and their attorneys, that there are no mal-intentions here.”

Helzer took over the position of acting municipal attorney from Blair Christensen about a month ago. She was unable to answer questions Wednesday night regarding whether the Friday deadline came from an invoice or demand letter, which frustrated some Assembly members.

“It is about the law and figuring out what we do when something unlawful has happened,” Midtown representative Felix Rivera said.

The other laid-on-the-table resolution invites the administration to a work session to discuss the issue further, among other things.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.