He fired all those selfless public servants!

Art Chance
Art Chance


We’ve all seen the breathless headlines and if you’re on social media you’ve seen all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s demand for the resignation of all “at will” employees of the State.

Since the fake news reporters and the union shills are clueless, I’ll explain it for you.

First, the governor-elect asked the current administration to give notice to the “at will” employees in the Executive Branch that the new administration desired their resignation by Nov. 30.

“At will” has an arguable meaning under Alaska law, but at least some of the people in the State’s partially-exempt and exempt services are something like “at will” employees.

Exempt employees are as a matter of law not subject to the State Personnel Act and the State Pay Plan established in statute.  The purpose is to be able to recruit people in skill sets that are very hard to recruit, or people who are to serve the State in some temporary and special endeavor.

High-dollar professionals get recruited here like petroleum geologists and psychiatrists and other highly pedigreed professionals.

People who write the right checks or sleep in the right beds also get recruited here as “temporary exempts,” jobs that if you have a friend in a high place get you $100K a year or more just because of who you know.

The essence of being an exempt employee is the fact that when you accept the job, you are a temporary employee; you enjoy none of the protections of the State Personnel Act; you cannot appeal your dismissal. You could sue if you had the money, but you had to prove that the State violated the law by firing you; many have gone there, but few have prevailed. That said, some have prevailed.

Partially-exempt employees are mostly the true political appointees in State government. Partially-exempt or PX employees are the commissioner’s staff, the directors, the special assistants, and most important for this discussion: the lawyers in the Department of Law, and they’re screeching like banshees.

The Legislature determined that all the lawyers in the State government were political appointees who served at the pleasure of the Governor. The courts a couple of times have said that, “we’ll decide that,” and told the governor s/he couldn’t fire some attorney; it’s not a settled matter. Some State lawyers are just brief writers and briefcase toters and have no policy role; some are involved in policy and are truly “at will” employees.

These are temporary jobs. You don’t buy half-million dollar houses in Juneau if you have a temporary job that may not last even the four-year term of the governor who appointed you. If you don’t have private wherewithal to go back to, you don’t take a political appointment unless you’re completely prepared to be out looking for a job sometime in the next four years.

If you’re a career state employee at the level that can look to become a political appointee, you’re out of your mind if you accept an appointment if you’re more than four years from retirement eligibility. That calculus has changed a bit with the implementation of the defined contribution Tier IV PERS, but few people in Tier IV are at the level to be vying for political appointments.

Governor-elect Dunleavy did the right thing; it is time to hit the reset button on the State’s political appointees. Some are apolitical subject matter experts; the governor should fire them anyway and accept their application if they want to keep their job.  Most are just hangers-on and should go trade their blue suit for a blue vest or find a new address in a zip code that doesn’t start with 99.

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. 


  1. Art,

    You are a state treasure. Thanks for your continuing valuable commentary. Now, put on your asbestos underwear, buy a flack jacket, and install a remote car starter.

  2. I think he means, “check under your car.” These “at will” AK state workers have the same mentality as mindless union thugs.

  3. What Mr. Chance graciously does not mention is that many, if not most, of the State’s attorneys we subject to a political test/screen WHEN THEY WERE HIRED. Few, if any folks with conservative leanings have ever been hired into State service. Even worse, there has been evidence over the years that young Alaskans with law degrees were shuffled aside to make way for fancy outsiders with politically correct views and the “correct” pedigree.

    Frankly, I hope that some of the attorneys that have been asked to resign are terrified. There are many that should be retained, but more than a handful that need to do something else.

    • The refuge of linguine-spined elected or appointed officials is to ask “what do the lawyers think?” This almost autonomic response by policy-makers has given State lawyers both exaggerated importance and an exaggerated sense of their importance; many of them think that they’re really the policy-makers. There are three basic kinds of government lawyers; those who would starve to death in private practice, those who are pretty good lawyers but prefer the more stable pay and hours of working for government over hustling for billable hours in the private sector, and those who LOVE being a government lawyer. Unfortunately, most of those who just love being a government lawyer are leftist ideologues. Fortunately, only a few of the ideologues are really any good at that lawyering stuff.

      Early in my career I was constantly having to plead my case to some State lawyer to get their imprimatur on whatever I wanted to do. Some of them while personally pretty leftist could leave their politics on the coatrack and give you a decent legal opinion; most couldn’t, and you wound up getting a lecture on what your policy or action should be, not on what you needed to do to make sure that what you wanted to do was legal. Later in my career I did all I could to avoid having the lawyers involved at all. In my last years with the State I outranked all but the highest level State lawyers and I wasn’t reticent to tell them that I wasn’t asking them what I should do; I was telling them what I was going to do and wanted to know what if any steps I needed to take to make sure it was done legally. They bridled, but they knew I had their boss’s direct line number.

      • Good summary, Art, and a good set of guidelines for newly-appointed Commissioners and Directors under Governor Mike Dunleavy. Lawyers have an obligation to SERVE their clients, not direct what clients should do. Lawyers in State service that do not recognize the difference should be shown the door.

      • Art spells it out pretty accurately on assessing lawyers. Government lawyers do not have the attorney’s version of bedside manners. Little developed social skills and no courtroom savvy or experience at all. In-house corporate counsel is about the same. The drones of the legal world. Legislative staff attorneys are used to going to the drafters to have a bill constructed in legal compliance for introduction on the Senate or House Floor. That’s where much legislative intent gets watered down. The drafters are usually Democrats. Republicans should insist on having bills crafted that CLEARLY defines THEIR legislative intent.

      • Art, I love it! Thanks for your contributions. I can “almost” visualize the crowd gathering after hours in the Alaskan Hotel Bar… Those mischievious suits from “the hill” … scheming at the tables over libations….

        • I held court at The Alaskan for many years. Juno and I had our wedding reception there. By the mid-Nineties the scene at the Alaskan had changed. The Triangle and The Hangar became the after work capitols, though especially at The Hangar the walls had ears. If you were a Republican and actually wanted to scheme you went to The Prospector. It was non-union and thus off-limits to most Democrats. I think later in my time there it became union but by then I didn’t care. By my appointee days I was pretty unsubtle; I told people what I was going to do and dared them to stop me. I’ve been out of government for twelve years now and out of Juneau for eight, so I don’t know the scene there anymore, though I doubt much has changed except for there being a lot fewer political appointees in Juneau other than during the Session.

          • Yes, I remember it well….all of what you say! My best years there were the 80’s. Anymore I just duck in and duck out of town. I drove over to Douglas and walked into Louie’s awhile back when I was in town and didn’t recognize the place. Times have changed. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  4. Accurate comments, JMark. Alaska is the only state without a full-time law school. As we know, most law schools are run by Liberal professors and administrators. But there have been a few independent thinking Alaskans who went to law school in the Lower 48 and came back home to practice. Real “pedigree Alaskans.” Not phony new arrivals with law degrees, with far left leanings. Dunleavy should seek out these true Alaskan lawyers and put them to work in his Administration. THAT would be a good start.

    • The Law is a conservative field, running on precedent until Right-wingers on the Supreme Ct. subvert those. In my sheltered life, I found Special Masters to be in a class nobody wanted: I was ordered on several occasions to break the law, violate the Constitutional rights of clients, and ignore the Inter- State Compacts. Many SM’s were from conservative law schools and in holding patterns while they tried and failed to pass the AK Bar exam. Give me a lawyer who can pass the Bar exam-I don’t care about their politics, unless they are embarrassing.

      • What kind of sheltered life do you live, Nathaniel? I know lawyers that passed the BAR exam easily on the first try. And they are lazy, slothful and pathetic advocates both inside and outside courtroom. Then, there is the lawyer who took the BAR exam six times before passing. Passionate, hard working, and can argue the facts or the law much more persuasively than the “brilliant” test taker. The steady and never say die lawyer is the one I want on my side. They dont quit. Grinders.
        Not some test taker who lacks people skills and thinks and processes only with his test taking skills.

  5. I think the Court of Appeals today just made the case in the Pohland decision why the Alaska Department of Law needs mucking out.

  6. Read the Saturday, 11/24, editorial in the Fairbanks DNM. Extreme left-winger Dermot Cole accusing Art Chance for advocating exactly what Democrats do when they seize power……….get rid of the non-loyalist offenders. The only difference is that Democrats don’t need to be reminded. They do it automatically as if on que. Democrats think like sheep using their survival playbook….baaaaaa.
    I love it when our side messes with the minds of sheep. And, so glad Dermot Cole is a regular reader of Must Read Alaska. He only wishes he had the writing talent of Suzanne.

    • Dermot Cole can’t control his indefatigable personal bias, Art. Your article in MRA is the impetus for his reaction piece in FDNM. Thus, we know Dermot reads and monitors MRA. Great Marketing, for Suzanne’s MRA.
      Those who aren’t familiar with Cole, here’s some background: He’s from PA, and a family of Quakers. Spent high school years with his twin brother, Terrence, in Asia where his dad was employed.
      Nerdy child, and looked every bit the part. Older brother, Patrick, a traveling, long-haired hippy, moved to Fairbanks in early 70’s with a girlfriend. He had a law degree and settled in to a life-long career as a local government lawyer and bureaucrat. Pat died several years ago and because he was a 40-year plus bureaucrat, the old City Hall was named after him.
      Dermot and identical twin Terrence followed Pat to Fairbanks in the mid 70’s. Neither worked on the Pipeline. Terrence was mentored by Claus Naske at UAF. Naske, a volatile History professor with a well-known penchant for pursuing coeds, created a smaller version of his left-wing political self in Terrence (minus the coed attention). Terrence, a great purveyor of the liberal agenda, ended up as a tenured History professor UAF.
      Despite his 30 plus years of college instruction to young, helpless minds, this ideologue cast very little influence on any deep historical thinking. He was a very poor public speaker, an oddball with a strange twitching habit. Mostly, Terrence is remembered as a Reagan, Bush, Trump hater in the classroom.
      Dermot may well be the most intellectual of the three Cole brothers. A fairly good writer who can whip-up the left-wingers with his commentary. But Dermot isn’t able to get beyond his self-serving, opportunistic political positions. This creates a deep hole in his messages. Like any ideologue, he is unable to rationally process information that may point away from his desired conclusion. Therefore, he only reports the information that will support his position and his conclusionary style is frought with errors in critical thinking. Dermot’s omissions in reporting are calculated to fool the public and buttress the leftie’s politic. His own brain can’t get wrapped around anything that points to a conclusion innapposite of his own opinion. The master of Fairbanks literary deceipt and Fake News. Dermot has been doing this for nearly 45 years and nothing is about to change. Except, for writers like Suzanne and Art, who can rule the inner demons of Dermot.

      • Thank you for the kind words. I have his “North to the Future” and it’s not history, it’s a hagiography of the Democrats that he likes to claim made Alaska. He’s wailing and gnashing his teeth about the morale of the poor exempt and partially-exempt employees who got notices, and I frankly couldn’t care less; the perennial appointees are an entitled class who view Governors and commissioners as interlopers to be managed and manipulated. I retired near the end of the Murkowski Administration and I knew people in the government who had been appointees since Hammond. I submit that reaching longevity steps above Range 24 is graphic evidence that you will do anything to keep your job.

      • Neither brother, Dermot or Terrence, had a best selling book, although they both are touted as book writers of Alaska history. Poor sales and limited to Alaska purchases only. Their writings are extremely dry and historical research is limited to the microfilm files at UAF. In other words, no pure personal research. Just digging up information researched by others and compiled and rearranged into their own format. Not quite plagiarism, but far from original and critical thinking. But what would you expect from identical twins. Terrence, has been on several TV documentaries. The best known is his appearance on a show about cemeteries, where he faces the camera and says, “I’m immortal and will never die.” A strange harbinger to the present facts.

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