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Construction

Mayor Bronson’s building manager has deep ties to family permitting business

In late June, days before taking office, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson announced key members of his incoming administration. One of the names, Ron Thompson, was well-known to people in the construction industry and the Municipal Building Department. Thompson worked for the Municipality from 1994-2015, starting out as a plan reviewer and rising to the head of the department. Thompson was instrumental in revamping the current permitting system during his prior tenure with the Municipality. In a July 15 email to employees in his department, Thompson wrote:

I started with the MOA in 1994 as a Plan Review Engineer, then Building Official, then Development Services Director/Building Official, and then Public Works Director. In 2015, I went to the private sector and provided services as a Mechanical Engineer and Consultant within the construction industry. I now have the Building Services Director title and will work with all of you as well as the industry to streamline the permitting and development processes throughout the MOA.

Thompson left his position with the Municipality after Ethan Berkowitz was elected mayor in 2015. He said it was clear Berkowitz was not going to retain him, so he resigned. Former Berkowitz officials confirmed this.

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On July 26, 2015 he and his daughter Kayli founded Scope Permitting and Engineering, LLC. Ron and Kayli owned 50% each. In 2020, Ron’s son Tyler became a 20% owner, leaving Ron and Kayli with 40% each. Scope Engineering steadily grew. According to their website, Scope Permitting “currently permits 70% of projects within the Municipality.” Leveraging his knowledge of the municipal permitting system he helped create, Thompson started performing permitting work for some of Anchorage’s biggest builders. Documents obtained by the Landmine show that Scope has worked on at least 208 building permits since 2017. General contractors he’s worked for include Spinell Homes (Chuck Spinelli), Visser Construction (Eric Visser, who is president of the Anchorage Home Builders Association), Taylored Restoration (Trent Taylor), and many more.

When Thompson was appointed director by Bronson, his 40% ownership of Scope was transferred to his children, leaving Kayli with 60% and Tyler with 40%. Tyler and Kayli now run the business. Their father is in charge of the municipal department that approves the permits they are paid to get through the approval process. In an interview with the Landmine, Thompson stated he was hired by Bronson to help streamline the Municipality’s permitting system. He said that he is not involved in day-to-day operations, which are handled by the Municipal building official. Bob Doehl, who held that position since 2019, recently resigned to take a job at the Rasmuson Foundation to work on homelessness. A message to Doehl requesting a comment resulted in a Rasmuson Foundation spokesperson calling me to ask for my questions. I replied that I was enquiring about his previous job, not his current one. As of this writing, he or the Rasmuson Foundation have not provided a comment. Jack Frost is now the interim building official until a permanent replacement is found. When asked about his relationship with Scope Permitting, the company now run by his children, Thompson said, “I don’t deal with them on business.”

Thompson, who has been on the job for more than four months, has yet to be confirmed by the Anchorage Assembly. Municipal Manager Amy Demboski told me that they do not intend to put his name forward for confirmation until the Assembly approves a reorganization plan requested by the Bronson administration. In an email to the Landmine, Demboski stated:

You will see the primary difference is the Office of Economic and Community Development (OECD) has been dissolved and multiple components have been brought back under the Municipal Manager, with the remaining depts/divisions being moved into the new Community Development Department. Community Development has three main departments: Building Services (Ron Thompson is the Director), Public Works (Lance Wilber is the Director), and Real Estate. After the Assembly ratifies the new organizational structure, the “Building Services” Department will be created (then Ron will be put forward for confirmation).

Below are the current and proposed organizational changes:

The head of Community Development, to whom Ron reports, is former Assembly member Adam Trombley. While on the Assembly, Trombley pushed through an ordinance to allow third party plan review for residential building permits. In a 2014 ADN op-ed, Trombley wrote:

With unanimous support of all Assembly members, I passed an ordinance that created a competitive marketplace for building plan review. Architecture and engineering businesses have expanded to meet the demand. A finalized building permit used to take five to nine weeks; now it takes three to five days — that alone has saved consumers thousands of dollars. Now housing is more “affordable.”

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Third party plan review allows builders to to bypass the Municipality’s plan review process, instead having private entities review and approve architectural and engineering plans. This change created the conditions for Thompson to start Scope after he left the Municipality in 2015. Third party review is currently only in place for residential building, though there has been talk of expanding the practice to commercial buildings. If this were to happen, Scope would stand to benefit.

Chief Structural Inspector Don Hickel has been an inspector with the Municipality for 20 years. Hickel told the Landmine, “Ron doesn’t follow the chain of command. He goes around supervisors and straight to front line inspectors and permit reviewers and tells them what to do.” Several sources in the Building Department say Ron’s kids are routinely in the office working on getting permits approved. In response to a question about the business his kids now run, a spokesperson for the Municipality said:

Ron has divested himself from Scope. Scope no longer does any Engineering since neither of his kids are engineers. They solely do permitting. Ron has made clear that he will not help, advise or sign on any item he worked on while affiliated with Scope.

He also does not help when his kids come into the permit center. He delegates that role to the building official.

But Thompson, who has been running the Building Services Department since July, signed his engineering stamp, that included his former business Scope, on October 19 for building plans submitted to his department on behalf of Clear Cut Cannabis. An open building permit for Clear Cut Cannabis lists Kayli, Ron’s daughter, as a permit contact. Thompson said he was given authorization to finish some engineering projects he had been working on prior to his return to the Municipality. He added that he is not involved in the approval process for these projects.

The plans with his stamp can be seen here and here.

Anchorage Municipal Code 1.15.100, Interest in municipal contract or business with municipality, states:

Disclosure upon employment, appointment, or election: Within 30 days of commencement of service, a public servant shall submit a written disclosure of whether or not the public servant or member of the public servant’s immediate family or household has an economic interest in a municipal contract or in an entity engaging in business with the municipality. The disclosure shall be made to the municipal clerk in the form prescribed by the board of ethics.

Thompson said he requested an ethics opinion when he took the job. The Landmine has not yet been able to obtain a copy.

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Lynn Willis
10 days ago

Tammany Hall comes to Anchorage.

Curtis
9 days ago
Reply to  Lynn Willis

Fox, henhouse.

Nunya bidness
9 days ago

This reads a great deal like the story on how the muni dealt with Crush and other restaurants Ethan was involved with as mayor. The only difference? I imagine the folks screaming about impropriety and those insisting nothing is wrong have traded places.

All seems pretty run of the mill insider governance; worth raising eyebrows, probably not worth yelling about.

Areal Bilk
8 days ago
Reply to  Nunya bidness

Oh yeah same thing. A business owner that “currently permits 70% of projects within the Municipality”  vs a couple restaurants putting up outdoor seating during an pandemic. Furthermore Patiogate was thoroughly debunked in this article: https://www.anchoragepress.com/food_and_drink/patiogate-conservative-bloggers-conspiracy-theories-about-mayor-roundly-dismissed/article_c22d12d2-d6bd-11ea-bbb8-4fe0faa44d74.html

Roger Galliett
9 days ago

I see “Equity and Justice” has been removed from Assembly purview? Or was that just an omission in the org chart?

Frank Rast
8 days ago

Are home buyers receiving homes that meet building codes? That is the only public interest in how MOA does business. The public should not really care who delivers the services as long as they are cost-effective and in tyhe public interest

Nunya Bidness
7 days ago

Assembly’s not buying Brontosaurus’s attempt to remove the Assembly’s approval of the Chief Equity Officer, especially since he illegally “fired” the still-legally-in-office Equity Officer.

Where’s the recall?