‘CHOOSE RESPECT’ NOW IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
Saying he wants to go in a new direction, Gov. Bill Walker has fired the executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Lauree Morton, recognized as one of the nation’s leaders in the field, was asked to resign by Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan this month.
Jayne Andreen was named temporary head of the agency. She was director for the council from 1994 to 1998 and worked with the Alaska Division of Public Health in the area of health promotion.
The move sent shock waves through the domestic violence and sexual assault prevention field, where Morton is considered an effective and nonpartisan leader.
Morton, with a long history of advocacy and grant writing, joined the council as a grant writer in 2007 and became executive director in 2011. Before that, she was executive director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel and executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Sources who asked to remain anonymous said the council itself was taken by surprise at the governor’s actions, which they perceived as politically motivated. The council has received no policy change requests from the governor and Morton had always earned positive performance reviews.
Additionally, they said, Walker already controls the direction of the council because he appoints five of the nine members. They are commissioners or their designees. If he wanted a change, it was as simple as ordering a new direction.
Morton reports to the council members. By state statute, the council hires the executive director, but state law does not speak to who fires her. The council itself is embedded in the Department of Public Safety, and her position evidently serves at the pleasure of the governor.
Speculation across the field is that Walker will ask the board to hire Amanda Price, who works in his office as a senior advisor on public safety issues.
The governor may be looking for places for his senior staff as he attempts to reduce the size of his office and deflect criticism for some of the high salaries he is paying his staff.
The council’s stated mission is to provide crisis intervention, perpetrator accountability, and prevention services to Alaskans victimized or impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault. It has been engaged in a major Alaska Victimization Survey since 2010 to understand a baseline for how many Alaskans are victims of these crimes.
There were 8,055 fewer victims in 2015 than in 2010, according to the study, which may speak to the effectiveness of the previous administration’s Choose Respect Initiative. Choose Respect has been abandoned by Gov. Walker in favor of an as-yet unarticulated direction.