Dunleavy revises process for reviewing candidates within his administration

What’s changed? Details are vague.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses a crowd in Kenai on April 6, 2021.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses a crowd in Kenai on April 6, 2021.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 2:37 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 4:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says his administration is more rigorously scrutinizing high-level appointees. The change in policy comes after separate conduct scandals forced the departure of two attorneys general in less than a year.

In a brief, in-person interview April 6 on multiple topics, Dunleavy spoke with Alaska’s News Source on what he’s doing to uphold public safety values within state workplaces and among personnel. He’d made an appearance in Kenai that day to announce his pick for public safety commissioner. Alaska’s News Source caught up with him after the event.

When asked what he’s doing to ensure workplaces are free from improper conduct, particularly among positions of power, he said “You dig even deeper than you normally do to make sure that you are vetting everybody. You revise your vetting process when you have to.”

In-person press conferences have been a rarity during the pandemic. This interview with the governor earlier this month allowed Alaska’s News Source to address lingering questions.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson resigned in August, after it was revealed that he’d been quietly placed on unpaid leave for sending hundreds of personal texts to a junior, female co-worker that had made the coworker uncomfortable.

Clarkson’s replacement, Ed Sniffen, withdrew prior to confirmation in January after allegations surfaced that he’d years ago had an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year old high school student.

Treg Taylor now serves in the role of Alaska’s attorney general.

“We’re going to make sure that anybody and everybody that we have we vet as well as we can,” Dunleavy said during the interview in Kenai.

“Sometimes, most of the time, the vast majority of the time, that works,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. But we’re going to do the best we can going forward.”

Before Sniffen’s appointment, the Alaska Justice Coalition says it sent a private letter to Dunleavy urging that he consider a woman or person of color for the job.

When Sniffen stepped away from the role, the coalition sent a second letter, this time publicly, again urging a different selection process and raising concerns about Taylor, whom they felt had minimized Clarkson’s conduct.

Meanwhile, Dunleavy has asked that an outside investigator to look into the allegations concerning Sniffen.

“Representation does matter, and one of the things that we wanted to make sure was that not only were we calling out and bringing light to, and attention to, the issue of the individuals who were in these positions and the lack of accountability, but we also wanted to make a recommendation of a better pathway forward,” said Charlene Apok, the gender, justice and healing director for Native Movement, and a member of the coalition.

The letters went into a void, receiving no reply, Apok said.

“It just sends a message to us Alaskans that, you know, there isn’t a priority on our safety and that there continues it continues to be okay to have sexual assault and misconduct across the state,” Apok said. “When we have people who are higher up and in positions of power and they’re unresponsive, it’s incredibly concerning. You know they aren’t being held accountable.”

The governor’s office did not respond to several requests for comment about the coalition’s letters.

In Kenai, when asked if the state had revised its vetting process in response to what happened with Clarkson and Sniffen, Dunleavy said his administration will dig deeper.

“We are using more tools that are now available to us,” he said.

The governor’s office has also not responded to requests for clarification on what specific tools are now being used to review applicants.

“The specificities around what tools are going to be used, what processes, how they can do better, need to be articulated very clearly and transparently in order to make any bit of change,” Apok said. “These are absolutely just unacceptable, unacceptable responses and they’re unacceptable handling of such an important topic here for safety.”

As for vetting candidates for leadership roles within his administration, Dunleavy said he wasn’t sure if there is a failsafe process, but that “... we are going to try and get there.”

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a typo.