Judy Eledge, then acting library director, at a special Anchorage Assembly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, where the Assembly voted to override Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of its emergency mask ordinance. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Library’s Deputy Director Judy Eledge was being investigated over allegations that she made statements librarians found offensive when Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration fired the person investigating her. 

Heather MacAlpine, the former director of the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity, was fired on May 11. Two weeks before, she’d started investigating Eledge after receiving complaints from library staff that she described at the time as “very disturbing.” 

They included allegations that Eledge told co-workers that Alaska Natives would be “living in caves” if it weren’t for the “white man and his oil” and had called books about transgender children “dangerous,” according to an email shared with Alaska Public Media. 

A spokesperson for Dave Bronson said the mayor was unaware of the allegations about Eledge reported to MacAlpine until Alaska Public Media asked about them. 

Mayor Bronson appointed Eledge to lead the library system last year despite her history of making inflammatory comments on social media. He has stood by her, even as critics claimed she was not qualified for the job and circulated a petition calling for her ouster in part because of her alleged “mistreatment of library employees.”

“She’s doing a great job and she continues to have my undying and unquestioned support,” Bronson told the Assembly in late April. 

Asked why MacAlpine was fired, spokesman Corey Allen Young said only that it had nothing to do with the library or Eledge.

“The Mayor’s Office takes seriously all allegations of harassment in the workplace,” Young wrote in an email. “We will not be commenting further on these personnel matters.”

MacAlpine declined to comment for this story, citing advice from her lawyer.

Eledge is a retired teacher and a longtime Republican Party insider. Bronson told the Anchorage Assembly in April that he’s known Eledge for 25 years, and she’s said she’s a personal friend of Gov. Mike Dunleavy

During her unsuccessful run for school board last year, the liberal blog The Blue Alaskan shared screenshots of controversial comments from Eledge’s personal Facebook on Twitter. In interviews after the comments surfaced, Eledge acknowledged writing “a couple” of them but claimed that “the majority” had been doctored by political enemies. She refused to say which posts she was claiming had been changed. 

The post included comments such as “Gay marriage, transgender…wanna bet pedophile relationships are next,” and “How sad that people of color seem to have no self esteem!”

In the months since Bronson put her in charge of the library, employees there have raised concerns with Human Resources, the city ombudsman, the city employees union and the Office of Equal Opportunity. 

In emailed complaints shared with Alaska Public Media and in interviews, 12 current or recently departed employees described a toxic, stressful and chaotic work environment. They claimed Eledge exhibited poor management, favoritism in hiring and promotions, and made offensive comments in the workplace. 

“I worry about the library and its future,” said Jacob Cole, who resigned on May 23 as Eledge’s second-in-command, mainly due to the work environment he said she fostered. “So many people have left because the mood amongst staff is so sad and negative.”

Cole said Eledge made what he felt were inappropriate comments at work to him and other staff. He alleged in an email sent to MacAlpine in late April that Eledge had railed against the “liberals” working for her, complained that women don’t know what books boys and men want to read, and threatened to “make library staff sorry” if they challenged her decisions.

When confronted outside her office at the Loussac Library in Anchorage in mid-May, Eledge said the alleged comments were “hearsay.” 

She said the alleged comments don’t reflect her views and that they are untrue. She said she “would never” make a comment suggesting that books about transgender children are dangerous. 

When asked about whether she could have made the alleged comments that Alaska Natives would be living in caves if it weren’t for white people, she pointed to her decades of experience living in rural Alaska, where she worked as a teacher. She said she wouldn’t “honor the request by responding” to the question of whether she had made the comments and said the allegations were motivated by politics.

“People here aren’t real fond of me because I don’t have a library science degree and I work for Dave Bronson,” she said. 

In addition to Cole, two other staffers who have quit since March cited the workplace environment under Eledge as their main reason for leaving. 

Linda Klein, former youth services librarian, quit in March and wrote in a text message that she felt “devalued” and “exhausted” from serving under Eledge. Laura Baldwin, a 15-year employee who oversaw the library’s collection of books and other media, said she quit after realizing she wasn’t going to be able to do anything to improve the work environment with Eledge at the helm. 

“I wasn’t going to be able to withstand two plus more years,” said Baldwin in a phone interview. “So I’m really sad and disappointed.”

Another employee, adult services coordinator Stacia McGourty, confirmed she was resigning on June 1. She didn’t give a reason. 

A white man with a beard in front of some plastic tote boxes
Jacob Cole left the Anchorage library after five years, including serving briefly as acting library director. He is set to begin a new job leading the public library in Longview, Wash. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“There have been a lot of people resigning, taking jobs elsewhere, some people quitting with even no job to go to, just because they find the environment to be toxic and just not conducive to work,” Cole said in a recent interview as he packed up his Anchorage apartment to move to Washington state for a new job. 

Cole worked at the library for five years and served briefly as its interim director last year. He applied unsuccessfully for the job of library director in 2021 and earlier this year. 

Eledge’s path to her library position was mired in controversy. 

Mayor Bronson appointed her library director in August in spite of objections from some Assembly members and the Alaska Library Association. They pointed out that she didn’t have a library science degree or any experience running a library, which was required in the position description at the time. 

The Assembly had previously rejected another Bronson appointee for library director, Sami Graham, on similar grounds. 

In November, Eledge resigned from the top library job when it became clear the Assembly was unlikely to confirm her. Bronson instead named her as deputy director of library services, a position that doesn’t require Assembly confirmation. That has made her the de facto leader at the library as the highest-ranking administrator. Her salary is around $109,000, according to a January report to the Assembly. 

A few months later, in February, staff began reaching out to Human Resources with their concerns about Eledge’s management. 

On March 16, two employees contacted the city’s ombudsman. They met with the ombudsman the next day and complained about a “hostile work environment and harassments due to the actions of the Deputy Director,” according to a summary of the complaints provided by ombudsman Darrel Hess. The summary does not name the employees. It says they told Hess’s office that they had recordings to back up their claims. Hess referred them to the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Equal Rights Commission. 

Several employees said they contacted Human Resources in April about the working environment at the library under Eledge. Some of them shared screenshots of their correspondence with Alaska Public Media but asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their jobs. The employees said that Human Resources told them there was not enough information to start an investigation or didn’t follow up on complaints. They said they haven’t received any responses from the department for weeks. 

MacAlpine, the Equal Opportunity director, saw the allegations as serious. 

On April 25, she contacted Cole, the assistant library director, who responded with a list of comments that he alleges Eledge made, including what he believed to be disparaging statements about Alaska Natives and suggestions she would “make library staff sorry” for not supporting her decisions. 

MacAlpine replied that she found his allegations “very disturbing.” A week later, on May 3, she visited the library when Eledge was out of the office to talk to staff. Several employees say they met with MacAlpine and shared concerns about Eledge.  

A black woman with curly hair and glasses in front of a white board
Heather MacAlpine was fired on May 11, 2022 after nearly seven years as director of the Office of Equal Opportunity. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Cole said he spoke with MacAlpine during her visit. He said she told him she planned to meet with Human Resources and “make them well aware of” the complaints. 

“She also said at that time, ‘I won’t be surprised if they fire me,’” he recalled.

A week later, on May 11, MacAlpine got a letter from Labor Relations Director Raylene Griffith and Bronson’s Chief of Staff Alexis Johnson. It stated that as an executive appointment, she served at the pleasure of the mayor and that her services would end on May 11. 

“I did not voluntarily resign, nor do I know why my services were no longer of use to the municipality,” MacAlpine said in an interview two days after she was fired. “So I’m a little perplexed at the timing.”

MacAlpine worked as the city’s equal opportunity director since 2015. She was appointed by then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, a progressive. Her office is tasked with informally resolving workplace discrimination and harassment complaints, among other duties. MacAlpine previously worked in the city ombudsman’s office, according to her resume. 

Eledge has been the highest-ranking employee at the library since she started. The director’s job has been vacant since she became deputy director in November. Bronson announced in April he had picked Robert Hudson as the new library director, but Hudson hasn’t started working there yet, staff said. As recently as May 19, Eledge was listed as the acting director of the library in minutes from the Library Advisory Board. The Bronson administration did not respond to an email request about Hudson’s start date.

Cole said he was hesitant to speak publicly about his experience at the library but hoped it would help bring change, either through removing Eledge or compelling her to change her behavior. 

“The only reason I’m talking to you about this,” he said, “is because I’m hoping that something can be done to make the situation at the library better.”

Though, he said, he doubted that would happen.

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Lex Treinen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
2022-05-31 16:02:35
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