The fox pledges to investigate the henhouse

Mayor Dave Bronson. (Photo courtesy The Blue Alaskan)

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On Monday afternoon, the Bronson administration announced Health Department Director Joe Gerace had resigned—claiming he had a stroke last week followed by additional health problems upon his return to the office that required his abrupt departure. Of course, when it comes to the Bronson administration the story didn’t exactly add up and it didn’t exactly end there.

Shortly after the announcement hit reporters’ inboxes, Alaska Public Media released an exhaustive report about how Gerace had fabricated just about every accolade and qualification he claimed when getting the job running the health department of Alaska’s largest city. The scope and magnitude of the con job are matched only by the amount of work that went into the investigation, which uncovered everything from stolen valor to shady business dealings and fabricated claims of advanced degrees.

The report and its summarized takeaways are both absolutely bonkers and they put a fine point on the malignant dishonesty that has come to define just about everything with the Bronson administration. As the saying goes, trust is won in drops and lost in buckets, and any trust in the Bronson administration should have evaporated the moment its members were caught lying about tampering with the city’s water supply.

To be clear, the Gerace-led health department has been rough.

It has been the source of much of the administration’s controversies in the past year from the bumbling handling of the city’s response to the pandemic—including the overnight end to city-backed testing that conveniently turned it over to private operators, baseless claims that the city’s testing services were better than ever and a suspicious, sweetheart contract that allowed a private security group to gouge people for free covid treatments—to the cruel and petty attacks on LGBTQ visibility to the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing the city’s unhoused population. And that’s not to mention the exodus of actually qualified public health experts from the department.

While the departure of the unqualified Gerace ought to be good news for all of the above, it’s hard to find much optimism in the whole thing.

Left unanswered are a litany of questions. To what extent did members of the Bronson administration they know about the holes in his story? Just how knowing and complicit were members of the Bronson administration in covering for Gerace? To what extent were they duped? To what extent did they allow themselves to be duped? Was the controversy after controversy that came out of the Health Department a consequence of Gerace’s ineptitude or the point?

Whatever the case may be, it’s not likely that a full and honest accounting of it will look good for Bronson and his team. It’s either a baffling level of incompetence—failing to verify some of the easiest-to-verify details of Gerace’s claimed experience which came amid accusations that Gerace was not qualified for the position—or, well, a pretty serious breach of the public trust.

That’s why the Bronson administration announced on Tuesday that it’s launched its own investigation of the “shocking news” that will be driven by the Human Resources Department, which is headed by the one individual in the Bronson administration who seems most culpable for embiggening Gerace’s accomplishments in Niki Tshibaka, and the office of the Municipal Manager, which would be Amy Demboski.

Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar noted that it’s not exactly confidence-inspiring to have the very people who were responsible for vetting Gerace handling the investigation of his hiring. Would Bronson be interested in a third-party?

“I’m sure you’ve heard many rumors,” Big Baby Bronson replied, “you may have even started some.”

No, Bronson added, it’s just an internal issue with HR.

In a brief update to the assembly on the issue, Demboski blamed the city’s existing hiring procedures for failing to verify Gerace’s resume. She claimed that it didn’t actually require applicants to provide transcripts other evidence of their background. They’d be going back and checking everyone hired since Bronson came into office, she claimed, to ensure they were truthful on their applications and were requiring all future hires to essentially turn over the keys on all personal records ranging from transcripts to credit reports.

The whole thing, she claimed, was just a good learning opportunity for everyone.

It should be noted that the Anchorage Assembly voted 7-3 to confirm Gerace’s appointment last year, despite a closed-door meeting to hear the concerns of former employees accusing Gerace of workplace harassment and incompetence. Why a majority of the Anchorage Assembly heard what it heard and still decided to vote in support Gerace is a lasting question, but Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant said they had relied on the administration and Human Resources to be truthful.

“It’s becoming more and more clear that the assembly must more carefully scrutinize information provided regarding mayoral appointees, particularly information provided to us by the Human Resources Department,” he said. “It is no longer trust but verify, it’s just verify.”

Constant said the Assembly will have its own review of the vetting process around confirmations and appointments later this week, noting that there’s been a massive amount of turnover including a still-unfilled library director position.

In the big picture

One of the common threads that has run through modern, Trump-era Republican administrations is the ease at which they lie, misrepresent and deflect. Their governance style seems built on the understanding that the systems of checks on their power—whether they be the legislative bodies, the press or the voters themselves—are conditioned to give deference to offices of the president, governor and mayor.

Trusting the mayor’s office to vet the serious claims brought against Gerace in his appointment process speaks directly to that. It also speaks to the whole “We really ought to give Bronson a shot, we owe it to the voters” mindset that dominated much of the early days of Bronson’s time in office. Time after time, Bronson has proven everyone’s desire to give him the benefit of the doubt wrong.

It’s good to see the Assembly catch on, but it’s still hard to see any serious consequence coming for the Bronson administration that was, at best, wildly irresponsible.

The other side of this story is that, as I understand, the rumors about his fabricated resume have been swirling for several months now. While I wasn’t ever privy to those rumors, I know there were others in the blog world that had heard the rumors but saw—like the Florida Politics publisher who got the scoop on the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago—that it was a far bigger story for them to tackle on their own.

Luckily, the team at Alaska Public Media and American Public Media had the time, resources and know-how to sift through the allegations with the time and effort that our elected officials were unable or unwilling to muster. Alaska’s Lex Treinen and American Public Media’s Curtis Gilbert have done a fantastic amount of work here that goes from digging through academic records to civil court filings, seemingly chasing down and nailing just about every loose end in this knot.

You can make a donation to Alaka Public Media here.

There’s certainly plenty to keep them busy.

If there’s one thing to know about an administration with a demonstrated penchant for lying is that you never know when they’re telling the truth.

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