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The Juneau Assembly on Wednesday decided to pick up legal fees for former city wastewater utility superintendent Andrew Bronson, who pleaded guilty last month to violating the federal Clean Water Act.
The city will pay $96,300 in attorney fees and expenses. Bronson was sentenced in federal court last month to two misdemeanor counts of negligently tampering with samples at the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Facility in 1998.
According to court records, Bronson diluted wastewater effluent samples with tap water so testing results would not violate the plant's federal permit. His actions were recorded on videotape.
After reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Bronson will pay a $10,000 fine, serve six months of home detention and be on probation for three years.
Following a 45-minute closed-door meeting, the Assembly voted 7-2 against requiring Bronson to pay the legal fees. Assembly members Marc Wheeler and Ken Koelsch voted to require that Bronson repay the city.
One of the marks of a good public official is the ability to show compassion, Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said. He said he has respect and admiration for Bronson. There were personnel issues at the plant and inconsistencies in the case, he said.
"There's a lot more information on this case than really meets the eye," he said. "After three years of investigation and a mysteriously hidden camera, I don't believe anything but he was set up."
Cathy Munoz, too, said she thought Bronson was set up. She said any reasonable person in his position likely would have pursued a plea agreement.
"What he was facing was really grave. It could have resulted in federal prison time," she said.
Koelsch said the Assembly didn't have the ability to judge what happened without evidence and testimony from a trial. He said the city is still addressing problems at the plant.
Wheeler said the Assembly knew Bronson pleaded guilty and was caught on videotape tampering with wastewater samples.
"Basically, this individual pleaded guilty to breaking the law. There is no evidence he was acting in good faith," he said. "I think it is our job to get the funds back for the taxpayers."
Dale Anderson said the decision was one of the toughest he has made since joining the Assembly. Bronson is a man of integrity, he said.
"This man did something he never would have done under other circumstances," he said. "I would go so far to hire this man back. That's how much I believe in his integrity and work ethic."
Because of Bronson's work, the Mendenhall wastewater plant is something the city can be proud of, Anderson added.
Bronson agreed in January to repay attorney fees if the city found he didn't meet standards of conduct required for indemnification. Under city code, the Assembly can pay for an employee's legal defense where acts or omissions resulting in liability were done in good faith.
Bronson was not at Wednesday's meeting and couldn't be reached for comment today. At his sentencing, he said he planned to move to Arizona.
Sewer issues have troubled the city for several years. The city has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve a separate complaint for alleged violations at the Mendenhall plant in 1999.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.