Mayor Bronson proposes changing Anchorage's municipal clerk position to an elected office
Dec. 31—Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson is proposing a change to city law that would turn the municipal clerk's position into an elected office.
The municipal clerk manages the city's elections, is in charge of administering Assembly meetings and records and oversees business licensing. Under current city law, the Assembly selects the municipal clerk, a nonpartisan position serving at the pleasure of the Assembly.
Bronson, in his announcement of the proposal, said making the municipal clerk an elected official would increase public trust and accountability.
"The Municipal Clerk serves an important role in the administration, supervision, and execution of our elections. Anchorage voters should have a say in who does this job," Bronson said in a prepared statement. "Having the Clerk elected by the people will improve transparency, create accountability, and increase trust in the democratic process."
Current Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. She has held the position since 2012.
After Bronson unveiled the proposal, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said that Anchorage's "municipal elections are safe, secure and transparent."
"Through years of service that has spanned assemblies and administrations, the municipal clerk has demonstrated the highest level of commitment to ensuring fair, accurate and transparent elections," LaFrance said. "It's imperative that the municipal clerk position remains separate from the political process and continues to be filled based on professional qualifications."
The municipal clerk's position, and the fact that the Assembly chooses the clerk, is enshrined in the city's charter, and it's up to Anchorage voters to decide whether to change the charter.
But first, the Assembly would have to vote to put Bronson's proposal on the ballot in the next city election, in April. That would require approval by a two-thirds majority of the 11-member Assembly. If that happens, then voters would cast their ballots to decide whether the municipal clerk should be an elected official.
Under Bronson's proposal, voters would elect a city clerk every three years. That person would have to live in the city, have resided in Anchorage for at least two years and be a qualified Anchorage voter.
"I believe the Assembly would never do this," Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said. He also criticized Bronson's proposal as an attempt to make the city clerk's position partisan so that the mayor could gain more sway.
"We will protect the nonpartisan nature of that office and keep electoral politics out of it," Constant said. He said that if the Assembly doesn't vote to put the proposal on the ballot, Bronson could pursue getting it in front of voters using another route — a petition and signature gathering.
Bronson's proposal comes on the heels of an acrimonious debate and public testimony over changes to the city's election laws, which the Assembly passed earlier this week. The adjustments drew skepticism from people distrustful of the Assembly and the election process, and several testifiers spoke about disproven claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election and said they believe fraud took place.
The Assembly usually tweaks election code each year to improve the election process.
Bronson criticized some of the changes as reducing transparency in the city's election process. Assembly leaders and other members have said that the changes aren't significant and that they don't reduce transparency.
This year also saw a contentious mayoral election and runoff during which the municipal clerk reported "unprecedented harassment" of election officials and "the dissemination of disinformation to sow distrust among voters."
Nationwide, trust in elections has fallen, especially among conservatives and after former President Donald Trump's repeated false declarations that the 2020 presidential election was a fraud.
The proposal from the Bronson administration comes as Trump-aligned conservatives in other parts of the country take steps to target the bureaucracy and mechanisms of elections at all levels.
Bronson said in his statement that clerks around the country are elected.
"It is time that Anchorage does the same," he said.
Constant called the mayor's proposal a "partisan attempt to continue this effort to sow a lack of confidence in our electoral process."
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Constant's claim.