BY 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.