Anchorage Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera advertised temporary, full-time Assembly aide positions on a Democratic Facebook group and nowhere else, drawing criticism from some in the community.
The city’s public ethics officer on Thursday said she did not believe Rivera’s actions violated the city’s charter or ethics code, but did believe there was an issue with public perception, resulting in Rivera changing his hiring process.
On Tuesday, Rivera posted six aide positions in the Alaska Young Democrats Facebook group. The positions would run three and a half months and pay $11,200. The jobs are to help the Assembly respond to the COVID-19 process, and the funding comes from a $175,000 allocation of federal COVID-19 relief money.
The Assembly approved that spending on July 28. While most was reserved to hire aides, $50,000 was allocated for a contract attorney to help the Assembly counsel’s office deal with extra work due to the pandemic.
On Thursday, Rivera said after some Assembly members questioned the need for six aides, it was determined only two would be hired for now.
In the post, Rivera asked that the positions not be shared publicly. In an interview, he confirmed that he did not post the jobs anywhere else, but did ask others to put out feelers.
Rivera said Assembly aide positions are not like other positions working for the city. They don’t need to be posted on a government job board. The candidates don’t even need to be interviewed. He said generally members have someone in mind, ask them if they want the position, and then they just have to fill out some paperwork.
“You have to go back to what is this position, and how would these positions normally be filled,” Rivera said.
“I could have, if I wanted to, not posted anything in public or private, and just picked six people.”
After that, Rivera said he met with Dee Ennis, municipal attorney and city ethics officer. Ennis confirmed she talked to Rivera, and said she told him it was her opinion that his actions didn’t violate the city charter, and if it was reviewed by the Board of Ethics, the finding would be that he did not do anything wrong because he made the post from his personal Facebook page and is not giving money to a political party.
However, Ennis and Rivera agreed there was some public perception of wrongdoing.
As a result, Rivera said he is handing over the interviewing and hiring duties to Assembly Vice Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson. Assembly members Crystal Kennedy and John Weddleton will assist.
On Wednesday, Sand Lake Community Council President Parker Haymans sent an email to Assembly members, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, his chief of staff, the city’s ombudsman’s office and the clerk’s office complaining about Rivera’s behavior.
“The SLCC is outraged to learn that during a pandemic, where hundreds if not thousands of people in Anchorage have lost their livelihoods, Chairman Rivera has the audacity to attempt to limit a pool of applicants for well-paid municipal positions to a politically aligned Facebook group,” Haymans wrote.
Haymans questioned the legality of the posting.
Rivera said he worked with Assembly Budget Analyst Desirea Camacho on the positions, but did not seek the advice of Assembly Counsel Dean Gates.
In an email, Gates declined to give his thoughts.
“I only give legal opinion and advice to my clients, the 11 Assembly Members,” Gates wrote. “I cannot weigh in or help you.”
Haymans also wrote that the community council “demands” the positions be filled through a nonpartisan hiring process. Community councils do not have authority over such things.
Haymans said he had full support of the community council’s board to send the email.
The controversy comes as the Assembly is under particular scrutiny, especially over use of federal COVID-19 relief money. Frustration from some in the community about the Assembly’s votes to support liberal policies has led to regular protests outside of Assembly chambers, and efforts to recall several Assembly members.
Rivera said six months ago, the perception of wrongdoing likely would still exist, even if smaller. As Assembly chair, it’s incumbent upon him to take it seriously.
“Regardless, it does not matter the size of the public perception,” he said. “The fact that that perception exists is the issue.”
Rivera said he’s heard from a few other people who have expressed concern about his decision, but is not aware of any formal complaints to the city’s Board of Ethics or Equal Rights Commission. The ombudsman’s office does not investigate Assembly actions.
Rivera said he posted the job in that specific group because he knows most of the people in there. They follow the Assembly’s work, and many have experience as legislative aides.
“If there’s anything in addition that I would have done, I would have posted it in perhaps a couple other groups where I knew there was the same sort of interest and expertise,” he said.