Anchorage Ombudsman completes investigation into Assembly election challenge

Recommends firing city’s IT director and requiring city employees to attend annual ethics training
Anchorage Ombudsman completes investigation into Assembly election challenge.
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 3:37 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Ombudsman Darrel Hess has completed his investigation into a challenge to the April 4 Assembly election. The city’s Information Technology Director Marc Dahl was found to have created a policy to help overturn the election results and leaked that policy to a campaign activist before it was even made public, Hess confirmed.

After the election results were in, Mayor Dave Bronson’s former chief of staff, Sami Graham, filed a complaint with the Anchorage Election Commission. At the time, Graham was endorsing a conservative Assembly member. But Hess found the complaint was filed improperly.

Graham’s complaint stated that no thumb drives should be inserted into municipality-owned equipment without authorization from the IT director. Moments before the complaint, Dahl had created a policy to support that challenge. But the ombudsman says Dahl had no authority to create that policy without first getting approval from city department heads.

The investigation found that Dahl had emailed that policy to Graham — after posting it to the municipality’s intranet — then Graham filed the complaint to challenge the election results. Those results indicated the conservative Assembly candidates were falling behind in the polls.

The problem is the complaint dealt with an internal policy that was only posted to the municipality’s intranet and wasn’t yet publicly available. Hess says because of this, he “reasonably believes that there may have been a violation of state election statutes.”

“This appears to be very egregious, as the mayor’s chief of staff said in the Assembly work session, the director’s actions were improper,” Hess said. “I think a 6-year-old could connect the dots, and I think it makes a troubling picture. I mean, it’s hard to dismiss this as coincidental, it just falls into place too neatly.”

Hess recommended that the city fire Dahl — and for the administration to require annual ethics training for all city employees. He also recommended that the city code be changed to bar municipal department directors from endorsing any candidate or being involved in any campaign activities.

“I think it raises concerns that an executive with the municipality may have colluded with election observers from a campaign to craft and post a policy that could be used to challenge the election,” Hess said. “And if you read the challenge document it says that this is serious enough that it could overturn the election, in the words of the election observer who filed the challenge.”

In an emailed statement, the mayor’s office said, “Mr. Dahl is still employed by the MOA but has been on administrative leave for several months. The Mayor’s office is reviewing the investigative report thoroughly and will take all recommendations into consideration.”

Dahl has remained on administrative leave since May.

Hess has referred the case to the State of Alaska’s Office of Special Prosecutions.