The Anchorage Office of the Ombudsman has officially referred the results of an investigation into the involvement of the city’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) director, Marc Dahl, during a challenge to the April 4 municipal election to the state Department of Law.
Ombudsman Darrel Hess, a liberal partisan who works for the Anchorage Assembly, stated that he “reasonably believes that there may have been a violation of state election statutes” and is recommending that Mayor Dave Bronson terminate Dahl from his position. Dahl has been on administrative leave for several weeks.
This action by the ombudsman, who has shown strong bias against the mayor, could create a chilling effect on anyone who would sign up to be an election observer in the future. Election observers are the only way a citizen can lodge an election complaint, but lodging a complaint now appears to put citizens in peril of a legal claim against them by the Anchorage Assembly or its surrogate, the ombudsman.
The investigation centers around events that unfolded on April 11, when Dahl instructed his IT staff to publish an internal security policy related to USB (thumb) drives being inserted into the city’s intranet’s IT security web page. The thumb drives were not being checked to ensure they were not transferring data to the election equipment, and Dahl wanted to tighten up that procedure.
The new policy, developed during the election, was emailed to election observer Sami Graham. Graham and two other observers cited the content of this policy in a formal challenge to the city’s municipal election, which had occurred on April 4. Hess is concluding that Graham and other challengers were coordinating with Dahl.
Graham and the other observers wanted to ensure that people inserting thumb drives into election equipment were being supervised or that their actions were being witnessed by another employee.
The complaint against the election observers that triggered the investigation was lodged on April 26, following an April 20 public session of the Anchorage Election Commission’s canvass and adoption of the election canvass report.
The complainant expressed concerns about the Anchorage OIT director’s potential role in developing and posting the USB policy with the intent of supporting an election observer’s challenge to the municipal election.
After reviewing documents and conducting interviews with various stakeholders, including Office of Information Technology staff and former staff, the Ombudsman concluded that a longstanding internal thumb drive policy had existed for several years. This policy required OIT staff to scan USB drives before inserting them into Municipal of Anchorage equipment. This policy was solely an internal OIT policy and did not have MOA-wide applicability.
Mayor Rick Mystrom’s MOA Policy & Procedure 1-1, signed on April 8, 1997, mandates a collaborative process involving all department directors, department policy coordinators, and the Office of Management & Budget for the development of policies with Muni-wide applications. The finalized, signed document with an assigned P&P number is supposed to be shared with MOA employees. The investigation revealed that the development and posting of the Office of Information Technology USB policy on April 11 did not adhere to these requirements.
The Ombudsman reported that the OMB Director was unaware of the policy’s existence until contacted by the Ombudsman, and the OIT Chief Information Security Officer confirmed that the posted policy was solely an internal OIT policy and did not hold MOA-wide authority.
The referral of the investigation’s results to the state Office of Special Prosecutions and the recommendation for Mayor Bronson to terminate Marc Dahl’s position mark a turning point in this case that may impact the actions and the public’s confidence of future elections.