By Emily Goodykoontz
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson on Monday announced his next pick for municipal attorney — Anne Helzer, who is the chair of the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Helzer must be confirmed by the Assembly before she permanently assumes the role.
Monday’s announcement comes in the wake of a string of departures and ongoing turmoil in Bronson’s administration, and as the Anchorage Assembly prepares for litigation against the administration after it refused to comply with a subpoena.
Former acting municipal attorney Blair Christensen resigned last month and her last day on the job was last week. The city hasn’t had a permanent municipal attorney since June, when Bronson’s original city attorney, Patrick Bergt, left the job. The Assembly did not confirm Bronson’s second municipal attorney pick, Mario Bird, though Bird has continued to work in the mayor’s office as a senior policy adviser.
Bronson’s administration has been rocked with upheaval in the aftermath of his firing in December of former city manager, Amy Demboski. She later issued a scathing letter accusing Bronson and members of his administration of unethical behavior, misconduct and fostering a hostile work environment, among other allegations.
[The Anchorage Assembly last week authorized its attorneys to begin litigation after Bronson and his officials repeatedly refused to hand over internal investigation documents in response to a subpoena from the Assembly’s chair. The Assembly is seeking answers to Bronson’s hiring of former Health Department Director Joe Gerace, who had fabricated and exaggerated details on his resumes.
In 2017, Helzer was appointed to APOC by then-Gov. Bill Walker, and later elected as its chair. The state commission oversees compliance with the state’s campaign finance laws.
In April of 2021 during the city’s mayoral election, the commission, with Helzer at its helm, denied a request from Bronson’s then-opponent, Forrest Dunbar, to expedite its process in evaluating a complaint he lodged against Bronson for violations of campaign finance rules.
The commission’s staff then investigated the Bronson campaign’s finances, and at one point recommended a $52,650 fine.
Ultimately, the commission fined the mayor a total of $38,500 in October 2021, after Bronson took office.
Helzer was also appointed in 2020 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to the Alaska Violent Crimes Compensation Board and her term runs until March 2023, according to the mayor’s office.
“Serving as Anchorage’s Municipal Attorney is an extraordinary honor. Anchorage’s Department of Law has a long-standing reputation for excellence which I will preserve,” Helzer said in the announcement. “I will confront the city’s current challenges head on. I am committed to lawfulness and integrity in our city government. I commend Blair, who led our Municipal Department of Law with strength and legal expertise.”
Helzer is a past president of the Anchorage Bar Association, and volunteers with multiple nonprofits, including Boy Scouts of America, Hilltop Ski Area and the Anchorage Concert Association, and is a graduate of the Anchorage Police Citizens Academy, according to her profile on APOC’s website.
She is a registered Republican, according to a state database.
When Bronson’s previous pick, Bird, was being considered for confirmation by the Assembly, Helzer wrote a letter supporting Bird’s appointment, speaking favorably of him in his work as a private practice attorney.
Helzer’s appointment comes as Bronson faces the threat of a lawsuit from Demboski, who has alleged he fired her for emailing him whistleblower concerns. Bronson is also contending with two ongoing lawsuits from fired executives, who have also accused the mayor of wrongful or retaliatory terminations.
Multiple executive positions in Bronson’s administration are unfilled by permanent appointments, and some departments are being led by a temporary director serving in an acting capacity.
Last week, the city’s Human Resources director, Niki Tshibaka, resigned. He cited “an increasingly toxic, hostile, and demoralizing work environment” in his resignation letter. Tshibaka had been under scrutiny for his role in a series of personnel controversies, including Gerace’s hiring, and allegations of a hostile work environment in the Bronson administration.
Former deputy chief of staff Brice Wilbanks also abruptly resigned last month, the same week that the city ombudsman referred to municipal prosecutors accusations from multiple staff members, who said the mayor’s office was using City Hall surveillance video to track who had been going to the ombudsman and Assembly offices.
The ombudsman has received a flood of other complaints from current and former city employees alleging a hostile work environment.
Demboski has also claimed that Bronson allowed his top adviser, Larry Baker, to attempt to pressure former city attorney Bergt to drop or reduce domestic violence charges against Baker’s business partner.
Bronson has declined to be interviewed and has not commented on the accusations in Demboski’s letter, citing “potential litigation.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Anne Helzer is currently president of the Anchorage Bar Association. Helzer is past president of the Anchorage Bar Association, but is no longer in the role.
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