Muni attorney tells Assembly: Chief equity officer can be fired for cause — or for no cause — per charter and constitution

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On Monday, the Anchorage Municipal Attorney sent a memo to the Assembly leadership in response to the Assembly’s October letter saying the mayor could not fire the city’s chief equity officer. Mayor Dave Bronson had fired Clifford Armstrong III in mid-October.

The attorney memo explains that the ordinance that created the position of chief equity officer violates the Charter and the separation of powers doctrine.

“The Chief Equity Officer serves at the pleasure of the mayor and, like other at will mayoral executive appointees, s/he can be dismissed for any reason or for no reason at all. The ordinance the Assembly passed is a clear violation of the Mayor’s authority established in Charter,” Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt wrote.

The former equity officer had been hired by the unelected acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson during her last days of office; she served as the unelected mayor for eight months and it was one of her final acts, along with wrecking the municipality’s website.

The ordinance creating the position was passed by the Assembly and signed by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in 2020; it says that the mayor cannot fire the person who holds this job position without the permission of the Assembly.

That’s against the municipal charter and the Alaska Constitution, according to the Bronson Administration.

The Alaska Constitution vests “all local government powers” in boroughs and cities. It authorizes the voters of a first class city to adopt a home rule charter and provides that  “a home rule borough or city may exercise all legislative powers not prohibited by law or by charter,” the Office of the Municipal Attorney wrote.

Accordingly, “an ordinance is invalid if it conflicts with [our] charter.”

The Anchorage Charter states that the mayor shall appoint all heads of municipal departments, subject to confirmation by the assembly, on the basis of professional qualifications. Persons appointed by the mayor serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

“Our Charter is plain and unambiguous—executive mayoral appointees  serve at the pleasure of the mayor and therefore may be dismissed by the mayor without cause. The express language of our Charter clearly, unequivocally, and unconditionally vests in the mayor the authority to remove mayoral executive appointees for any reason or for no reason. It is also significant that our Charter explicitly limits the mayor’s executive appointment power by requiring Assembly confirmation of specific appointees; it places no such limitation on the mayor’s removal power, however,” the attorney wrote.

Municipal code further says that the Assembly has no authority to displace the mayor’s power to remove mayoral executive appointees, and that the mayor need not show cause for such removal: Executive employees are “at will” employees and serve at the pleasure of the mayor or the responsible official of the appointing authority.

“Employees occupying an executive position are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the responsible official for the appointing authority. As such, the responsible official may dismiss, demote or suspend any employee occupying an executive position for any reason, or no reason, without right of grievance or appeal. The code acknowledges that the mayor, and only the mayor, may terminate executive mayoral appointees,” the memo said.

Therefore, the ordinance that created the chief equity officer position, AMC 3.20.140.A.1.b. and 1.c, “unlawfully infringe upon the powers granted to the mayor by Charter 13,” Bergt said.

“An ordinance creating “for cause” and durational term protections of an executive mayoral appointee usurps the mayor’s executive function. Separation of powers between and among the three branches of government is a long recognized, well-settled, and core doctrine of American jurisprudence. The doctrine is intended to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power and to safeguard the independence of each branch of government: “One branch’s threat to the independence of another . . . may therefore violate separation of powers,'” he wrote.

Last month, the Assembly authorized the hiring of an outside attorney for $50,000 to fight the firing of the former chief equity officer, and also sent a letter to the mayor saying they do not recognize that Armstrong III is indeed fired.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Great. Please ask the attorney to censure the Assembly person who threw Mr Sherwood out of the meeting for reading the charter regarding access to records. Ms. LAFRANCE impinged upon the reading of the charter something she never does and we would like it referred to by the public whenever they wish. The assembly makes it impossible to get any records from the city. Modulation notwithstanding. That is the only way they are comfortable doing business in Anchorage. THROWING THE PEOPLE OUT. Denying access to records. What is due process for removing from REPRESENTATION in English please.

    • There is nothing to laugh at here. The Assembly violated the separation of powers doctrine. Patrick Bergt did his job well. I hope the Assembly has the collective dignity and good sense to stand down and move on to issues of the day.

  2. Something tells me this explanation won’t suffice.

    The Assembly set this guy up for failure, knowing he would be replaced by Bronson. It’s as if they used him as a sacrificial lamb. I know, shocking behavior, motive.

    • With fellow radical leftist extremist Babs Jones in charge of the (mail-in) vote counting, I’m not surprised in the least. Mail-in voting was and is the perfect mechanism for cheatingn lying, ethics-free radical leftist extremists to seize almost permanent power in Anchorage, just as they have used it for the same purpose in other radical leftist West Coast sh!tholes.

  3. And BOOM Suzanne beats the ADN to the wire with this story!

    Who are we kidding, ADN won’t publish this… thanks for what you do Suzanne !

  4. Any AT will position can be terminated at any minute. This isn’t new.

    This council knows this and is just jerking bronsons chain all the while making themselves look like the communist fools they are.

  5. This analysis by the city attorney was obvious to any sentient being. When in doubt, read the City Charter! Separation of powers. This doctrine held sway during the previous democrat mayor and this republican mayor administrations. This seems to have escaped those vindictive ‘hate Bronson at all costs” assembly members.

    Why do the people of Anchorage waste everyone’s time electing these fools?

  6. Since when have Far Left Freaks followed the rule of law? They will just ignore this until they can find an activist judge to over rule it!

  7. Why hire an outside attorney for $50,000 when we have a city attorney who’s job it is to answer legal questions for the administration?

    Does the assembly not trust the legal acumen of our city attorney?

    • In a word, No. Same is true of the Administration not trusting the Assembly’s attorney. It’s likewise true with the State; the Legislature doesn’t trust the Executive Branch and a Republican governor can’t trust either the Department of Law or Leg Legal.

      • I wouldn’t trust the municipal attorney either, given the Bronson administration’s success at getting actual qualified professionals to accept key positions in the administration. For example, their CFO…. an out-of-work banker at the time the position came open, of whom the administration is so proud, they don’t even list his name on the Muni website CFO home page. His picture is there…. no name. He has literally no experience in finance & accounting.

  8. Now make the Assembly publicy read it into the record. I want to hear the words come from their mouths. Delicious.

  9. And the resolution/ordinance to change the charter and make the equity officer an employee of the Assembly is getting introduced in three…. two… one…

  10. Personnel rules aside—he was fired because he wasn’t showing up for work. Now it’s just a matter of expending public dollars–err wasting public property tax dollars–to prove it!

  11. No Standing

    Installed by the assembly
    During their wilding spree
    Then with all their might
    They broke the website
    Said you’re in charge of diversity

    So now you’re finding out 
    It wasn’t much of a rout
    The mayor has real power
    To remove you from your tower
    So stop the bleeding heart pout

    You tried to get back in the room
    With an off-color nasty cartoon
    But the attorney has ruled
    There’s only two legs to your stool
    Tell the assembly get back on their broom

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