BY ART CHANCE
Now that I have your attention, I don’t want to grow state government at all. We can’t afford the government we have and we only have it at its current size because the state employee unions were a major shareholder in the consortium of interests that bought and installed the Walker-Mallott hermaphrodite administration.
But the State of Alaska desperately needs to add personnel in two kinds of jobs; it can get the money both from the savings these jobs would generate by getting rid of excess baggage such as the “temporary exempt employees” I discussed in previous column.
The first new job the State needs to create is a solicitor general who would be in charge of all litigation by or against the State.
If the new position is sub-cabinet as a subordinate to the attorney general in the partially exempt service like other State lawyers, it can be created by the director of Personnel and the Personnel Board as a part of the State’s classification plan, and can be created without legislative action.
Technically, the Legislature has to approve changes to the State Classification Plan, but that hasn’t been done in living memory, and I may be the only person still alive in Alaska who knows it is supposed to be submitted to the Legislature for approval. If Democrats control any body of the Legislature, they would never allow this to happen, so it will take a Republican governor and a Republican-appointed Director of Personnel and Personnel Board majority to create it.
The reason for doing this is is because politics should come out of the State’s positions in litigation — both litigation on the State’s behalf and its defense in suits filed against it.
The reality is that during any gubernatorial election pending legal issues are simply trade goods. Filings and appeals just go on the auction block and this needs to stop; litigation strategy should be predicated on the State’s interest not on the interest of a governor seeking re-election or his/her challenger(s).
All of Gov. Wally Hickel’s lawsuits against the U.S. attempting to assert State sovereignty were simply sold by the Knowles Administration in exchange for political support.
I had a meritorious case attempting to defend an Alaska Labor Relations Agency decision limiting the kinds of employees who could be unionized that was first sandbagged by Law to stretch it out into election season, then thrown by Law in the Superior Court, and the appeal to the Supreme Court was simply sold to the unions. There have been many others but those are the ones about which I have personal knowledge.
The new solicitor general would be a political appointee, but serve a fixed term of office during which s/he could only be removed for cause. S/he would be paid from the State pay plan one range above the highest level assistant attorneys general and at an earned step. That should be set out in the class specification or administrative order so there wouldn’t be any step placement bargaining or “exception pay.” It would be unseemly to pay the State’s top litigation lawyer an illegal salary. The fixed term would stop, or at least give pause to, the governor’s lawyer, the attorney general, from calling the solicitor general in and threatening to fire him/her if a certain position isn’t taken or a case not settled the way somebody who owns a piece of the governor wants it.
Manipulation of the State’s position in litigation is a big piece of gubernatorial politics and is worth a lot of money to a lot of interests. I’m not naïve enough to think this would stop it, but it would make it much more difficult. And before somebody says “elect the attorney general,” all that does is bring another participant to the auction of State cases.
Then, the other position the State needs to create is inspectors general because it really is nobody’s job to make sure the State follows either the law or its own processes. In the pristine world the first Legislatures envisioned, the merit system employees with “officer” in their title and the directors of the ministerial divisions in the Department of Administration had the duty and the power to step in and say “no” to directors and commissioners who wanted to do something illegal or in violation of policy.
Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that ever being done. A classified Range 20 finance officer is no match for a director or commissioner. Most wouldn’t be stupid enough to outright fire him or her for telling them no, but they could sure make the finance officer’s life a living hell for doing it, and rest assured nobody is going to stand up for the finance officer, not even the union, if they backed the governor.
There needs to be enough inspectors general to effectively oversee all the departments and, especially, the quasi-governmentals where, unfortunately, graft and corruption is a way of life.
We in Labor Relations were able to fairly effectively, when allowed to, oversee all the departments with a professional staff of usually six or eight Range 18 to 21 employees and a Range 23 manager or Range 26, (now 27) director, but we didn’t have to deal with quasi’s and we had at least some support from human resources staff.
An inspector general’s operation cannot count on any support from the departments and quasi-departments unless they are absolutely forced to give it, and even then the support will be of questionable value.
Even today without such a formal function and the limited powers of the people in ministerial positions, the prime directive inside State government is: “Never let Administration or the Governor’s Office find out what you did.”
I’d say you’d need roughly 12 or 15 of inspectors general plus a head of the function.
Probably the best place to put it administratively is in the Office of Management and Budget, except that OMB is all exempt, since it is in the Governor’s Office. There is a way to solve that; you can do most anything with a phone and a pen, I’m told.
The inspector general should have the power to compel testimony and the production of records by any State employee. If interviewed by an inspector general, the employee should not be allowed counsel or union representation.
Denying counsel or representation means that the inspector general would only be able to recommend a disciplinary investigation of the employee rather than impose discipline on his/her own authority. Doing it that way protects Fifth Amendment rights, due process rights, and the so-called Weingarten Right to union representation, since no criminal charges or disciplinary action can result directly from an interview with the inspector general.
The head inspector general should be partially exempt and serve a fixed term during which s/he can only be removed for cause. S/he should be paid on the State pay plan at an earned step and should be placed at a range equal to a deputy commissioner. Since most of the inspector generals’ business will be with directors, s/he will need to out-rank them.
The rest of the staff can be classified — but not union, which might take some doing, but should be done. They can be paid at the common ranges of people with ministerial authority, usually State Range 20-23.
That’s my plan to grow State government with some functions that might give the government some very badly needed integrity.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.