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Members of the Anchorage Assembly today started to unpack the fallout of revelations that the city’s Health Department has been helmed for nearly a year by a man who had fabricated just about every qualification he had claimed when put forward by Mayor Dave Bronson. The implications of the deception by Joe Gerace—uncovered by Alaska Public Media—are vast, obliterating what little trust some may have had with the administration, setting the stage for a dramatic overhaul of how confirmations are vetted and raising serious questions about the Health Department.
At the meeting of the Assembly’s Rules Committee, both progressive and conservative members said they were troubled by the news and wanted answers.
“As a health care provider, I am very disturbed that we have someone at the helm of the Anchorage Health Department implementing policy who was not qualified to do so,” said Assemblymember Daniel Volland, an optometrist. “I’ve been hearing from many of my colleagues and many health care professionals who are concerned. It’s unfortunate and it causes me to not trust that I can rely on the administration to vet appointees. Zooming out of this particular instance, I think we need clarity around the future of the Health Department.”
While Bronson-aligned Assemblymember Randy Sulte noted that there were plenty of qualified businessmen out there without college degrees that shouldn’t be barred from public service—like MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell—conservative Assemblymember Kevin Cross seemed more interested in getting to the bottom of what happened and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.
“I’ve never seen a business fail because it raised its standards. Usually, it’s when you lower your standards that something fails. This is extremely frustrating,” he said. “I look forward to what we’re going to do to improve this because our citizens deserve the highest standard of individuals. You know me, I’m a limited government guy, so if we’re going to have a small one, it better be work really well.”
The mayor’s office didn’t participate in the hearing, which was more of a sounding board for members to raise concerns that could be followed up in further meetings and explored by the assembly’s legal team. A big question was just what powers the Anchorage Assembly could have in directly vetting appointees in the future rather than relying on what the administration claimed.
Assemblymember Christopher Constant said he wasn’t sure the Assembly could duplicate the deep background checks that the administration is supposed to do but said they certainly could check appointees’ claimed experiences against public documents like military records and enrollment records. He acknowledged that the assembly should have done more, particularly in the face of Bronson’s attempts to browbeat the assembly into submission by accusing their questions as a witch hunt.
“I apologize for that process,” Constant said. “We weren’t more assertive in pushing back against the administration in their approach to dealing with assemblymembers.”
There was also quite a bit of attention on the role Human Resources director Niki Tshibaka, husband of U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, played in the whole thing. Members noted that he was the primary vetter of applicants, primary cheerleader when they ran into skepticism with the Assembly and now will be serving as the primary investigator. One member of the public said she wasn’t convinced he did anything to check Gerace’s resume and should be fired.
None voiced any confidence that Bronson’s promise of an investigation would produce anything worthwhile.
While much of the discussion was about what happens moving forward with future appointments—like the still-vacant position for library director—there was also concern that there were others within the Bronson administration with falsified resumes unqualified to do whatever job they had been hired for.
Assemblymember Kameron Perez-Verdia noted that during the confirmation process, there was at least one appointee that they sparred with over their background only to find out that they didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree. He, along with others, said the whole ordeal raises questions about the qualifications of every other Bronson appointee where they trusted the administration had done basic due diligence.
“I think where there’s smoke there’s fire. This is a clear indication that there’s a breakdown in the system and that we may very well have others who are working for us who are absolutely not qualified to be in the position they’re in,” Perez-Verdia said, adding that he wasn’t comfortable with the administration running the investigation of itself. “I absolutely believe that we need to have an independent investigation to understand about what was done, what processes were used and not used. I think it’s really important that all of the appointments that came forward under this administration be reviewed again.”
Attorney Bill Falsey, who worked as municipal attorney and municipal manager under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and is currently working with the Anchorage Assembly, said it’ll also be important to explore just what happened at the Gerace-led Health Department, which has been a constant source of controversy for the administration on everything from its handling of the pandemic to the city’s treatment of unhoused people.
“What cost it may have actually incurred for the municipality is a wise (issue to consider). I do know from a different life that these director positions are positions of real authority and trust. People are approving purchases, people are approving timecards, they’re making representations and compliance reports to federal agencies and making promises and representations to grantees and whatnot,” he said. “It’s really concerning both to someone with that background and as a citizen that you have a person who has a demonstrated record of submitting things that were not accurate to the municipality. I think it’s worth a real good look at what happened during the nearly yearlong tenure of the former director.”