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The old switcharoo in municipal election


Democracy is whittled away in small bites. But this one is a rather big bite. It’s hard to explain, and it’s school board politics, but give it the old college try:

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SWITCHAROO: One of the dirties tricks candidates pull is to make everyone think they are running for a seat, then coordinate with someone who shares their philosophy and pull a last-minute switcharoo right at the filing deadline.

But how can you do that when someone like David Nees, the Anchorage election bird dog and candidate for Seat E on the Anchorage School Board, is watching every day to see who filed?

You create a parallel system.

In this case, the Municipal Clerk opened a second election office down in the Ship Creek area, and let everyone know they could file either at City Hall or Ship Creek.

That’s not the problem, however.

The problem is no one imagined the Clerk would also keep two sets of logs for who had signed up or withdrawn their candidacy for the April 3 municipal election. Each set would have different information. If you went to City Hall, you’d see one thing, Ship Creek would have another, and online would have other information.

School Board member Tam Agosti-Gisler deftly used that system to pull out of the race for her school board seat at the last minute, and put Deena Mitchell in her place.

Meanwhile, school board candidate David Nees, who did not originally file for Agosti-Gisler’s seat because he knew he could not beat her, asked the assistant clerk why someone’s name was missing in the book, although their name was listed on the Election Office web site. She had no idea.

David Nees

When Nees went back into the office on Friday, she told him that she had the answer: There were parallel books being kept. They didn’t reflect each other.

HOW IT WENT DOWN: Mitchell, a liberal and member of Great Alaska Schools, was running on Tuesday against school board incumbent and conservative Elisa Snelling. That’s how it appeared Wednesday downtown.

Deena Mitchell

By Friday, Mitchell withdrew from that race, filed in Agosti-Gisler’s race, and Agosti-Gisler withdrew. The deadline went by safely before David Nees could discover there were two books.

In 2018, it’s hard to imagine why this information isn’t posted online so everyone can see in real time. But even in the old days, it was never acceptable to carry two sets of books and deny the public the transparency it deserves.

As for Agosti-Gisler, she said in a letter to the board that she coordinated the swap with Mitchell and is supporting her candidacy. And now, she’s off to Switzerland for a couple of years. Her letter was dated Feb. 2, the deadline date for filing:

To: School Board
Cc: grant_katy; Hayes_Janet; moffitt_kathy; stock_mark; Graham_Michael
Subject: Big decision I made

February 2, 2017

Dear Superintendent Bishop and Board Colleagues,

After careful deliberation and with much vacillation even up to today, I have made the decision not to pursue a third term on the Anchorage School Board. I have just returned from the MOA where I withdrew my name from the candidate pool.

You may be aware that my husband, Hans, is retiring from the MOA in March.  You may have also heard me quip that he has supported my “School Board habit” for the past six years, allowing me to dedicate my full attention to board service.   I must now seek employment to supplement our income.  We have decided to move to his home country of Switzerland this fall for various reasons: 1) There are positions available for employment teaching English as a foreign language. 2) We will live in a bilingual town fulfilling my dream of becoming fluent in his native Swiss-German and he in French. 3) We have talked about living in Switzerland for the past several decades but careers and family always supplanted the idea, yet we aren’t getting any younger!  4) Hans is the youngest of 9 siblings, the eldest who just turned 80.  He has lived here in Anchorage for 39 years and this time in Switzerland will allow him to reengage with his family.

 We plan on staying in Switzerland for two years and then will return to Anchorage.  Alaska will always be home.  I may choose to seek reelection to the Board in a later year.

I chose to run for the Board 6 + years ago because I intuited that the ASD was in for tumultuous times as we transitioned to 21st century learning and faced diminished funding.  I felt my skills and passion for education could be of service.   I am confident that we now have the right Superintendent, the right team, and the right direction for this district to continue on the appropriate path to best serve our students.

I spoke with Deena Mitchell today and told her of my decision.This afternoon, she signed up to run for the seat I am vacating and I am supporting her candidacy.

With respect,

Ms. Tam Agosti-Gisler
Anchorage School Board

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Our “non-partisan” seats are certainly appearing more partisan all the time. Transparency = if we say it’s so, it’s so. Even if we say it’s not so, it’s so. But it might not be so.

  2. No problem, nothing to see here, let’s move on, shall we?

    The “School Board” is all about getting more money.

    That’s all their chief money-getter talked about at last month’s Federation of Community Councils meeting. That’s what they do, their raison d’etre, for our future French speaker.

    So, why –specifically– should we care who “serves” on the school board?

    And last, but not least, Anchorage voters gave up any right to complain about the balloting process when they meekly accepted the convenience of Anchorage’s brand-new, computer-controlled, vote-by-mail system over the inconvenience of having to show up at the polling place and vote in the traditional manner.

  3. That’s pretty sleezy, and will be a legacy many of us will always be able to point to our and say “I always knew she was a phony, and the way she left proves it…”

  4. The clerks office is on the second floor of city hall. I think this could easily be contested but then again, Judges are generally as liberal as the clerk and her bosses, the Anchorage Assembly.

  5. If election sleaziness, sleight of hand, and bait and switch in Alaska elections bothers you then you darn well need to be working on un-electing Bill Walker every day from today through November 6, because if Walker is re-elected then Byron Mallott will continue to control elections, and following the 2020 census Bruce Botelho will control redistricting. The process and the people who brought us Westlake will be deciding the fate of Alaska for a long time if we don’t work very hard! For myself, I’ve known every Alaska governor since Hammond and I think none has done a better job than Mike Dunleavy will.

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