Walker’s smoking gun: How to reward friends with jobs

Art Chance
Art Chance



A “concerned State employee” gave me a copy of the guidance memo on hiring that the Walker Administration put out from the Department of Administration, Division of Personnel and Labor Relations on Dec. 17, 2014, a few days after Gov. Bill Walker took office.

Interestingly, it isn’t in the form of standard State of Alaska memos and doesn’t say who the author or recipients are.

It is simply captioned with the DOA logo and “Director’s Office” and titled “Guidance.”

You can see the memo yourself here:

EX_PX_ClassifiedServiceGuidance copy

It’s the sort of memo that would take some time to write, only a few people in or out of government could write it, and such a memo would, or certainly should, be vetted at a very high level of political management.

Such memos are legally public record once published, but they usually go to a very limited audience of the State’s Human Resources people and Administrative Services Directors.

As a general rule these people will leak anything they don’t agree with to the media if it comes from a Republican Administration and if somebody in a Democrat Administration wrote a memo confessing to killing Kennedy it would never see the light of day.

It’s not that they’re all Democrats, though most of them are, though they register nonpartisan usually, but those that have dared to have Republican thoughts know that if they were to leak something, the Democrats would hunt them down like a rabid dog and they’d likely never work in State government again — unless they have or make some really good Republican connections.

Don’t ask me how I know.

What is noteworthy about the memo is its emphasis on “exempt” appointments.

Most State employees are in the classified service and subject to the constitutionally required merit system articulated by the State Personnel Act. Some State employees are in the partially exempt service and while they theoretically have to meet minimum qualifications and have a job description the reality is that they are true political appointees and the only real qualification is “knows the Governor” or “knows the commissioner.”

They’re as close to at will or serve at the pleasure as the courts will allow the State to have.

And then there are exempt employees who are not covered by any aspect of the State Personnel Act or its appurtenances like the State Pay Plan.

There is a list of job titles and organizations/functions at AS 39.25.110 that lays out what employees can legally be exempt from merit system rules, and it’s a fairly small list.

Historically, it was never very controversial before the Knowles Administration. Everybody knew that if you were a teacher, a vessel employee, worked in the Office of the Governor or in the quasi-governmentals, you were exempt or if you were in one of the specific job titles you were exempt.

But it wasn’t uncommon for unions to challenge the designation of a job as exempt by claiming that the duties didn’t match the job title and the job should be classified and in one of the bargaining units.

Then somebody discovered AS 39.25.110(9) and the so-called “temporary exempt.” This was an obscure designation that had been used for special projects by the Governor’s Office and for the once-popular “Blue Ribbon Commissions” and the like. Because it was temporary, it got none of the State benefits, such as leave, health insurance, or retirement contributions/credit. But the State could pay them whatever it took to get them.

Then Knowles’ first director of personnel miraculously discovered that some temporary exempts weren’t really temporary and were thus entitled to the same benefits as permanent State employees, and the floodgates opened; everybody with a friend in high places was trying to become a temporary exempt so they could escape the surly bonds of the State Pay Plan and union contract wages.

It quickly became the “$100,000 Club.” The right check or the right bed got you a $100,000 job for which nobody could tell whether you did it anything.

I don’t know how many there are now, and the State has not been scrupulous about designating who is really a 110(9) exempt, but there are lots of them; you have to know how to decode State job titles to spot them if you get a list such as that published by the Alaska Policy Forum recently.

Project managers or project coordinators in the exempt service are almost certainly 110(9)s as are most any off-the-wall titles that aren’t in the normal class title scheme for the State.

So, to bring this back to the memo of Dec. 17, 2014:

The first item of discussion is how to appoint to the exempt service. While the memo gives the obligatory admonition that it must be statutorily authorized, it spends several hundred words instructing how to describe and title a job so it can be placed in the exempt service and avoid all the inconvenient stuff like competitive recruitment and selection and having a real job description and being paid in accordance with the State’s classification and pay schemes.

Now, this gives us a good “to do” for the new commissioner of Administration; find them all and root them out — root and branch.

If they have a real job, transition them to the classified service and see if they can pass their probationary period.

If they’re just somebody’s pet, fire them; put a bounty on them, you’re saving $120,000 or more for every pet you get rid of.

Then rescind Bev Reume’s email conferring benefits on them; I challenge anyone to find a copy of it today, and make temporary exempts truly temporary.

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. Another fantastic piece by Art (Suzanne’s reliable reporter). Look at Walker’s henchmen: union bosses, AFL-CIO gangsters, law partners, corrupt former mayors, and even a child-abusing soul mate. The only people that supported Walker in the end were the idiots who still had jobs with him. And many of them tried to reach the shoreline of the swamp during the final days. Truly a despicable time in Alaska’s history.

    • There are only a handful of people even inside State government who would realize or care that the memo is an instruction manual for evading the law or outright breaking it. I believe that paying benefits and giving retirement credit to temporary employees is outright illegal, and there are more than a few people who had a State job in the Seventies or Eighties and were thus Tier I PERS who have come back to a 110(9) exempt job at fancy money and built a new high three with but minimal contributions to PERS.

      The State’s personnel administration scheme was intended to give the then-titled Personnel Officer ministerial authority to make sure that all hires, transfers, and promotions, and the like were done in compliance with the law. The true ministerial authority lies with the appointed director of personnel in Admin but much of the authority is delegated out to the department personnel officers, currently titled human resources managers.

      By the late Eighties when I first came to work for the State the system was hopelessly corrupted and personnel staff worked at the whim of the Administrative Services Directors and saw their job as making sure that political management could do whatever it wanted. Plus, the State had foolishly and wrongly allowed them to become union; no other employer has unionized confidential employees. The conflict between unionized confidential employees and administration objectives reached a critical point in the concessionary environment of the Cowper Administration. We simply couldn’t trust Personnel people to deal with collective bargaining.

      During Hickel we moved to get the upper level HR people out of collective bargaining and won their removal before the Alaska Labor Relations Agency. The unions appealed and Law first allowed the appeal to move from Anchorage or Juneau to Ketchikan and away from prying eyes, sandbagged it to get it into election season and then managed to lose the meritorious case, and of course set it up for the incoming Knowles Administration to sell the appeal to the AKSC to the unions. To add insult to injury the Knowles Administration delegated almost all Personnel and Labor Relations authority out to the departments and they had an eight year feeding frenzy; everybody and his dog had his hand in the cookie jar. When I became director of labor relations in early ’03 I gathered up a 4″ thick stack of letters of agreement with unions giving employees all sorts of goodies like advanced steps, bonuses, extra leave, OT eligibility for ineligible employees, etc. that should have been reported to and approved by the Legislature, but were never submitted. I wrote up a monetary terms report and sent it to the Speaker and President. Nothing happened and I began to wonder why. Then I discovered that they didn’t want to act on it because they too had been granting exception pay and bonuses, though ironically theirs would have been legal since all legislative employees are exempt. Somewhere in there the “temporary exempt” became a favorite toy of division directors. The director of personnel and I tried to stop it but too many were already addicted to it. She overturned a few that were obviously just bedwarmer pay but the Gov’s office was approving them and it couldn’t be truly stopped.

      We got Governor Murkowski to sign off on bringing all personnel and labor relations authority back into the Department of Administration and make the departmental personnel staff subordinate to the director of personnel rather than the Administrative Services Directors of the departments. The pushback was immediate and vociferous but we had the horsepower to resist it and implement the reorganization. We stood it up and made it work, though a lot of senior HR staff decided it was time to find greener pastures or retire. We held it together but the director of personnel retired in ’05 and I retired in ’06 and our successors didn’t have the horsepower and in some cases the will to resist the pressure from the departments so by the end of Palin/Parnell it was pretty much back to the bad old days, but the ASDs were happy to have their “HR girls” back. The whole mess needs mucking out again.

  2. It seems to me a way to cut the government budget is to ensure all of these laws and regulations are rewritten clearly. Our government and the way it is structured is just ridiculous.

    • Most of them are written pretty clearly, especially those that have remained in their original form. Some have become “camels” over the years as interests have struggled to have them amended to suit their purposes. Section 215(b) of PERA is a good example of that; struggles between a conservative legislature and a union-dominated administration to amend the legislative approval process for labor agreements have resulted in a body of law that is simply incomprehensible.

      The real issue is an organizational culture in State government that views its role as “working around” the laws to get political management what it wants despite the laws.

Comments are closed.