Anchorage mayor says he’s investigating the hiring of former health director Joe Gerace

A bald man stands in front of two overflowing dumpsters
Former Anchorage health director Joe Gerace meets with journalists outside of the Sullivan Arena shelter before a walkthrough tour on Nov. 1, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson says he’s launching an investigation into how his own administration failed to catch the fake credentials of his former health director.

Joe Gerace resigned as director of the Anchorage Health Department on Monday, citing health issues, after Alaska Public Media confronted him with evidence that the resume he used to get the job was fabricated.

Bronson’s statement about the investigation comes a day after Alaska Public Media and American Public Media published a story about how Gerace overstated and misrepresented his educational credentials and military background to get the city health director job.

“Upon hearing the shocking news yesterday about Joe Gerace, I immediately tasked the Municipal Manager’s Office and Human Resources Department to investigate the hiring of former Anchorage Health Director Joe Gerace,” said Tuesday’s statement from Bronson. “I expect an in-depth and thorough investigation into this matter, and HR hiring practices moving forward.

Bronson’s statement is a reversal from a day earlier. On Monday, Bronson spokesperson Corey Allen Young told Alaska Public Media on a phone call that the city didn’t have enough time to answer questions about Gerace’s credentials and said some of the information presented was untrue. The mayor then, in a statement late Monday afternoon about Gerace’s resignation, praised Gerace as dedicated and hardworking.

At an Assembly meeting Tuesday, City Manager Amy Demboski said that the city would require new employees to give HR permission to contact former employers and colleges to verify credentials. She said the department would also verify credentials of employees that had been hired since the administration took office.

“We’re gonna go back and we’re gonna double check every single thing,” she said.

Assembly members who voted to confirm Gerace said Tuesday they felt lied to during last year’s confirmation process. They said they acted on the information given to them about Gerace’s credentials at the time. West Anchorage Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, who voted to confirm Gerace, said the Bronson administration needs to answer questions about what it knew or it could lose public trust.

“You begin to question not just this one hire, but many hires, right?” Perez-Verdia said in a phone interview. “You wonder whether the administration has done background checks and has done verification of degrees of the many people that they’ve brought forward to be confirmed.”

Perez-Verdia said in meetings, Gerace appeared to be unqualified.

“He frequently told us things that were not true, he was not prepared, he was way over his head,” Perez-Verdia said.

Another Assembly member, Forrest Dunbar of East Anchorage, also said he regretted his vote to confirm Gerace last year. Dunbar narrowly lost the mayoral election to Bronson. He pointed his finger at one person in particular.

“I think we need to hear more from Niki Tshibaka, the head of HR about how he was vetted about how people in general are vetted, and how this mistake got through,” said Dunbar.

He said that he had concerns about the HR director running an impartial investigation into the city’s hiring practices. Tshibaka is being sued by the former head of the Office of Equal Opportunity, who was fired while investigating alleged offensive comments by the city’s acting library director, Judy Eledge. Tshibaka appeared at a public meeting after the firing wearing a T-shirt with the words “I’m with Judy” on the front.

“I would like to see someone other than Mr. Tshibaka take the lead in that investigation,” Dunbar said.

Assembly members say they want more information from the Bronson administration to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Chris Constant, the Assembly vice chair, said the Assembly rules committee will discuss their options on Thursday.

Alaska Public Media

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