The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night rejected Mayor Dave Bronson’s choice as municipal librarian, and the mayor immediately responded by appointing her as his new chief of staff.
Sami Graham, a longtime former principal and teacher from Anchorage who ran unsuccessfully in the April municipal election, faced opposition from members of the Assembly who questioned whether she qualified for the position because she did not have a librarianship degree. Members of the Bronson administration argued that Graham’s other experience qualified her for the job and that the mayor had the discretion to appoint her.
After a long debate, the Assembly did not confirm Graham by 7-4.
Immediately after the vote, Bronson, in a surprise announcement, said Graham would be his chief of staff. This position does not require a confirmation vote.
Graham joined Bronson and members of his administration on the platform, to applause, seated in the seat bearing Craig Campbell’s name. Campbell had served as Bronson’s chief of staff since his inauguration.
The mayor’s office also announced that Campbell is stepping down as chief of staff and will now be director of policy and programs, a new role.
“Just for reference, when you search for the chief of staff, the new chief of staff, his desk will be in the library,” Bronson said.
Graham will also have an office in the mayor’s office, according to a statement from the Bronson administration.
In the statement, the administration said Graham would “also manage the day-to-day administrative operations” of his office, but in addition, “in his capacity as chief of staff, Mayor Bronson has also delegated his authority to oversee the public library of ‘Anchorage to Mrs. Graham.
Bronson said in the statement he expected Graham not to be confirmed as librarian by the Assembly, a move he described as “blinded by partisanship and pushed to prevent our administration from going from the front “.
“However, over the course of these many weeks, I have been increasingly impressed with Sami Graham’s political acumen, organizational leadership and ability to tackle complex challenges. For many of the same reasons, Sami was qualified to lead the library and more, she will be a great addition to help lead the operations of the Mayor’s office, ”said Bronson.
Assembly member Crystal Kennedy, who voted in favor of Graham’s appointment, said the announcement was “certainly unorthodox” but “certainly within the remit of the mayor”.
“The mayor has the right to staff his administration as he sees fit, and I think he is doing that,” Kennedy said.
Assembly member Felix Rivera, who voted against Graham’s appointment, agreed the mayor has the right to appoint her chief of staff and said he looked forward to working with her in that role.
“I think the way it was done was a bit flashy and disruptive to our process, but I’m prepared to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt on this,” Rivera said.
“Having said that, I’m very curious about what Craig Campbell will do in his new role,” Rivera said.
Graham was not the first Bronson appointed to gain the attention of Anchorage Coven members. David Morgan, who Bronson had appointed to head the city’s health department, resigned earlier this month ahead of his confirmation vote after some members of the Assembly questioned previous statements he had made on the pandemic and its qualifications.
Before the assembly voted on Graham’s confirmation, the mayor and members of her administration continued to argue that she deserved the post, despite the minimum post qualifications of a master’s of library science and seven years of experience in librarianship, citing his many years in various positions as an educator and school administrator.
“Ms. Graham is clearly qualified to be our next library director; she has equivalent qualifications,” said the municipality’s human resources manager, Niki Tshibaka. “… She is a very competent, very talented educational leader. and highly respected in our community. Our libraries are meant to be a balance between education and literacy, she has critical experience in this area. “
Tshibaka pointed to section 3.30.024D of the Anchorage Municipal Code, which states that other combinations of experience “may be eligible if found to be equivalent.”
Municipal Director Amy Demboski argued in the Assembly that “recent past actions of this body indicate that the body is comfortable confirming new people for the post of department director”, citing herself, among other recently appointed people.
“I have never managed a city of this size, yet today I am the city manager,” she said.
These and other arguments were not sufficient to influence a majority of members of the Assembly.
“I am sure the mayor will be able to find a more qualified candidate,” said Assembly President Suzanne LaFrance. “I do not think the administration has demonstrated that the candidate has equivalent alternative qualifications.”
Assembly members said they had received a noticeable amount of public reluctance over Graham’s appointment.
“We have received hundreds and hundreds of emails about this nominee, almost entirely negative,” said member Austin Quinn-Davidson. “… I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time, maybe at all with someone named.” “
Assembly members also rejected a proposal by Member John Weddleton to postpone Graham’s confirmation vote until September 14; Weddleton had argued that the administration should review its hiring process for the position, consider other candidates and allow Graham to outline his plans for the library’s future.
“Our role as the Assembly is not to get involved in the HR process and not interview other candidates,” said Kameron Perez-Verdia, member of the Assembly, in opposition to the motion of Weddleton. “We have been presented as the candidate and our job is to determine whether we think this person is qualified for the job or not, period.”
Perez-Verdia said Graham is “a very impressive human being, she has had a great career, but her career has not been aligned with this area”, and voted against her nomination, along with LaFrance, Rivera, Quinn- Davidson, Pete Petersen, Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar.
Along with members Jamie Allard, Kennedy and Weddleton, Assembly Deputy Speaker Chris Constant voted in favor of confirming Graham as librarian – “in my opinion, she hit the limit with the qualifications” , did he declare. But Constant said he felt the Assembly had done its duty with the confirmation vote.
He called Graham’s surprise appointment as Bronson’s chief of staff a “big decision.”
“You cannot claim that she is not qualified for the post of chief of staff,” Constant said. “… She has run a school or several schools for years, which is surely as complex as managing the staff of a mayor. I think, in fact, that she may be more qualified than many of those who have held this position.
Once Graham is seated in the mayor’s office, “I bet she’s going to shoot full blast and get the job done,” Constant said.