Anchorage Assembly asks court to dismiss Bronson lawsuit over his firing of chief equity officer

Anchorage Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance (left) and Vice-chair Chris Constant at the Dec. 7, 2021 Assembly meeting. The Assembly voted unanimously to end an indoor mask mandate it passed in October. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly is asking a state superior court judge to dismiss a lawsuit from Mayor Dave Bronson involving the chief equity officer position.

Bronson fired Clifford Armstrong III, the city’s first chief equity officer, without cause and without Assembly approval in October. 

According to the ordinance that established the position, the chief equity officer can only be fired by the mayor if there’s documented cause for termination and if a majority of the Assembly agrees. 

Bronson filed a lawsuit last month asserting that the ordinance was against the law, and he has the right to fire the head of municipal departments without cause. 

In a motion for summary judgment filed Wednesday, attorneys for the Assembly ask that the judge dismiss the mayor’s lawsuit, stating that the mayor’s legal claims “depend on a foundational misunderstanding of the ordinance and the Anchorage Municipal Charter.” The Assembly argues that Armstrong was the head of an “office” rather than a municipal department, and does not serve at the pleasure of the mayor. 

Armstrong was hired in April 2021 by then-acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. The position is designed to promote equity by making sure hiring and contracting is fair and represents the diverse perspectives of Anchorage.

RELATED: Anchorage mayor reaches legal settlement with former chief equity officer

Bill Falsey, an attorney representing the Assembly, said he doesn’t believe any facts are in dispute between the Assembly and mayor, and the case is strictly a matter of law. Falsey was municipal manager under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and also ran for mayor against Bronson. 

Falsey said the Bronson administration has 15 days to file an opposition with the court. After that, Assembly counsel will have five days to file a reply to the opposition, and then the matter will be taken up in front of a judge.

Officials with the Bronson administration have yet to respond to requests for comment regarding the motion filed Wednesday.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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