Former municipal manager sues Anchorage, Mayor Dave Bronson

Filing follows Assembly refusal to approve settlement
Former municipal manager sues Anchorage, Mayor Dave Bronson
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 12:54 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2023 at 1:42 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A lawsuit was filed Friday by Amy Demboski against Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson alleging violation of the Anchorage Whistleblower Act as well as unlawful gender discrimination and wrongful termination, amid other claims.

Demboski was Bronson’s Municipal Manager until she was dismissed on Dec. 19, 2022.

The new lawsuit against the municipality and Bronson seeks “compensatory damages, to be demonstrated at trial, in an amount exceeding $100,000.”

It also asks for “treble damages” under Anchorage Municipal Code, an award of punitive damages, attorney fees, and other costs associated with the suit, and “Injunctive relief to prevent additional actions damaging to Plaintiff.”

Demboski alleges that almost immediately she faced challenges after she started working for Bronson.

“Their wanton disregard and disdain for following law and propriety presented daily problems,” the lawsuit claims.

Demboski claims Bronson gave orders to get the navigation center done as soon as possible.

“Mayor Bronson was heard to say on several occasions ‘we need to get the concrete poured by October (2022),’ ‘we can’t wait,’ ‘we can’t stop once the pour is started,’ and multiple other references,” the lawsuit said.

A navigation center was the cornerstone of Bronson’s homeless policy.

It was voted down by the Assembly by a vote of 9-3 in August.

At the work session, Director of Community Development Lance Wilbur said the cost of constructing the facility will fall around $11.4 million — $12.4 million if constructed during the winter — but those figures didn’t include purchasing of equipment or furnishing. Furnishings are estimated to be around $400,000.

An email response from the mayor’s office says Bronson is aware of the civil suit.

“The Mayor is aware Ms. Demboski has filed a civil suit. He will continue to work hard on behalf of the people of Anchorage and looks forward to this matter being resolved,” the email read.

Assembly Chair Christopher Constant says he is glad the suit has been filed.

“The additional detail in the lawsuit underscores that the people of Anchorage have a strong interest in discovering the facts behind the allegations,” Constant said in an email.

Demobsoki also claims she “became frustrated about Mayor Bronson’s comments about the project which seemed to be made absent any understanding of permitting, Anchorage Municipal Code, and proper process.”

The suit also said that Bronson “communicated to several people that he knew he was operating in violation of Code by starting construction without Assembly approval. Mayor Bronson also communicated that Mr. Shearer would be the one to ‘take the fall’ for the decision because he had signed the work orders.”

Shearer is Saxton Shearer, the maintenance and operations director for the city.

There are also allegations of a hostile work environment and gender discrimination.

It claims a senior staff member was having an improper relationship with a subordinate.

“The relationship bothered Mayor Bronson to the point he called Ms. Demboski multiple times in one day and directed her to go into City Hall over a weekend,” the lawsuit claims.

It goes on to say the mayor and staff member’s cell phones shared each other’s locations.

Demboski’s attorney Scott Kendall sent a demand letter to the Mayor on Jan. 11 claiming a range of infractions by the mayor ranging from hostile workplace to gender discrimination.

There are also allegations of a senior staff member making “extremely sexualized jokes” and passing out “penis-shaped cookies to the staff.”

The letter also alleged that Demboski was fired after informing the mayor just days prior to the dismissal of her concerns regarding alleged improper city contracting practices, unlawfully directing work on a proposed navigation center, human resource issues, unethical attempts to influence the municipal attorney as well as other claims.

The letter also refers to another communique — this one an email from Demboski to Bronson sent on Dec. 14, 2022 — in which Demboski detailed the mayor’s use of “unlawful and unethical activities using municipal resources.”

Demboski’s letter also alleges Bronson deliberately directed the signing of several sole-source contracts without the use of a competitive bidding process open to the public.

“The Mayor’s Office has intentionally executed at least three sole-source contracts with Mr. [Larry] Baker for $29,500 each in almost immediate succession to one another, with only a three-day break between each,” the letter written by Kendall said on Jan. 11. “This disingenuous scheme is a clear violation of the law limiting the size of such contracts.”

Friday’s suit goes on to say by the end of 2022, Bronson had ordered three consecutive sole source contracts of $29500 each with BSI, a company owned in part by Baker and that he was to be paid as a “Senior Policy Advisor.”

“One possible motivation for Mr. Baker to be a contractor rather than simply be hired by the MOA is that he could be collecting retirement payments through the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) system while ‘double dipping’ and receiving payments from the MOA as a private contractor.”

At the end of March, the municipality reached a settlement agreement with Demboski for $550,000, but the Anchorage Assembly voted down the settlement on May 23.

At the time, Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel said she was frustrated by the payout and also warned that going to court could be more expensive.

“We have to weigh the pros and the cons of what this could cost, what the Demboski allegations could cost, if it were to be litigated, against this settlement,” Zaletel said then.

Assembly members voted 8-4 in opposition to paying for Demboski’s settlement. Zaletel, Kevin Cross, Randy Sulte, and Scott Myers were in favor.

In contrast, the Assembly voted unanimously to settle a second wrongful firing lawsuit for $277,500 filed by former Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Heather MacAlpine. At the time, East Anchorage member George Martinez voted against settling with Demboski, but in favor of the MacAlpine payment. Martinez said then that it was a different situation because MacAlpine had already filed lawsuits in state and federal court.

A spokesperson for Bronson at the time wrote in a news release that MacAlpine and the municipality had “mutually agreed to resolve all pending claims.”

Read the full lawsuit:

This article has been updated with additional information.