Bronson Commits an Overreach of Power, Assembly Allocates $5 Million More For Mass Care Exit Strategy, Updates Election Procedures & Reverses Administration’s Proposed Departmental Changes.
Bronson Shuts Off Fluoride in City’s Water Supply The new year has finally arrived, but it would be uncharacteristic of the Bronson administration to usher it in without a new scandal and that is exactly what the month of December gave us.
On the 11th of last month, the Alaska Landmine released an article detailing three separate instances of abuses of power by the Bronson administration that led to the sudden resignation of Chief McCoy as head of the Anchorage Police Department. One of these instances, which was originally denied by the mayor’s office in a public statement, was that Dave Bronson turned off the fluoride in the city’s drinking water for 5 hours during a visit to the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Plant.
The veracity of this claim was confirmed on Tuesday, December 14th, when the mayor’s office released a statement confirming the mayor’s actions, while simultaneously rationalizing them by claiming that AWWU employees had complained about the adverse health effects they were experiencing from the fluoride.The manager of the union representing workers at AWWU later denied the administration’s claim, and with no other indication or explanation for why this occurred, it is evident that Bronson committed a blatant overreach of his power and authority as mayor. Because of this extremely inappropriate conduct, the assembly is now launching an inquiry into this incident and more details related to the case will emerge soon.
Assembly Addresses Departmental Changes The first assembly meeting of the month took place on December 14th, where items that were originally scheduled for discussion on the 7th but pushed back, were addressed. This included the assembly voting to keep the library as its own department, which Bronson originally had proposed moving to the Parks and Recreation department in October. This is in line with the position of the Library Advisory Board itself, who sent a resolution expressing their opposition to the assembly at the time it was proposed.
The assembly also confirmed that the Chief Equity Officer would continue to report to both the mayor and the assembly despite Bronson’s effort to change the reporting structure of that position, and the Office of Equity and Justice in general. When the position was created in 2020, the assembly reserved the right to dismiss the Chief Equity Officer only by a majority vote from its members after just cause was presented by the mayor. There is currently a legal battle associated with this issue as Bronson is suing the assembly, claiming he had the right to dismiss the former Chief Equity Officer, Clifford Armstrong III, without their approval back in October.
Updates to Local Election Procedures The next assembly meeting, which took place on December 21, saw many people testifying in opposition to the city’s yearly updates to the rules for local elections.
The opposition came mostly in the form of questioning the integrity and transparency of these elections, which has become a popular political talking point for the right in the wake of the widespread propagation of false claims of election fraud made by former president Donald Trump before he left office in 2020. Bronson has continued to echo these talking points locally, often raising questions about the election process in the city and the credibility of mail-in ballots, despite winning the mayoral office by around 1,000 votes in the race against Forrest Dunbar last May.
The issue had to be postponed for a special assembly meeting on the 28th where the ordinance updating rules for local elections passed 10-1, with only Eagle River representative Jamie Allard voting in opposition. One of the updates that passed was a commitment from the city to provide 24 hours of livestream footage of the voting center, which will remain only a commitment by the municipality for now, as YouTube, the platform the municipality uses for all of its livestreams, currently limits livestreaming to 12 consecutive hours.
Additional $5 Million Allocated to Homelessness Plan Another important development from the assembly meeting on the 28th was the allocation of $5 million from the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) fund to be used for the further enactment of the Mass Care Exit Strategy, the municipality’s solution to homelessness. The additional funding passed through an ordinance with a 9-2 vote.
Before the extra $5 million was approved, only $6 million in total had been allocated to the homelessness solution. $3.2 million of this money was used to purchase the Sockeye Inn and Barratt Inn, which are to be used as “permanent and workforce supportive housing,” and $2.8 million for the construction of a “navigation center” with a capacity of up to 330 people. The municipality’s Mass Care Exit Strategy calls for the development of 5 different types of shelter including the permanent and workforce supportive housing units and navigation center, as well as additional housing units.
Zaletel proposed using the additional $5 million for getting people into housing units, correctly observing that the city has many resources available for housing, including vouchers and rental assistance, but because of the city’s housing crisis, Anchorage lacks affordable housing units in general. Yet, months into what has been a particularly cold winter, there is still not a timetable for moving people out of the Sullivan Arena, and into the 5 different types of housing promised in the Mass Care Exit Strategy.
The Bronson administration continues to struggle to both assert and use its power to positively impact local issues, opting instead to continue to feed into a right-wing narrative and political agenda often focusing on vague and unfounded, idealistic goals and dealing with one scandal after another at every turn. While the more pragmatic approach of the assembly is slowly achieving progress on issues such as homelessness and the COVID-19 response, the administration still struggles to maneuver the city through the harsh economic reality of Anchorage’s housing crisis as well as the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on the job market, healthcare system, and community at large. It remains to be seen how these issues will be handled in 2022.
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