Push back as Dunleavy asks for all at-will state employee resignations

 Wasilla Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R)
Wasilla Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R) (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 19, 2018 at 3:16 PM AKST
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There has been pushback by some to Gov. - elect Mike Dunleavy’s request that all at-will state employees submit resignation letters before they can re-apply for their jobs and continue working under his administration.

The pushback includes Gov. Bill Walker, who says he “strongly advised” Dunleavy against the move during a meeting with the transition team.

“Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s call for the resignation of nearly all exempt employees, on the other hand, is creating anxiety and uncertainty for committed, nonpolitical public servants such as prosecutors who work tirelessly to keep our state running,” Walker said in a written statement over the weekend.

Director of Psychiatry at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Dr. Andrew Blanford, wrote a letter to the editor of The Anchorage Daily News on Monday saying he will not be offering his resignation.

“Whereas it might seem like a simple matter to offer my resignation with the likelihood of being retained, this symbolic gesture of deference doesn’t settle well with me,” wrote Blanford. “The state of Alaska hired me for my expertise, not my political allegiance. My moral allegiance is to the mentally ill and the staff who care for them.”

“If an at-will employee declines the request to submit a letter of resignation, we will take that as evidence they do not wish to serve in the Dunleavy Administration,” wrote Dunleavy’s chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock in a statement Monday.

“It’s a real blow to morale, and I think it’s detrimental,” said Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D - Anchorage. “The fact that you have the administration saying, "If you don’t turn in your resignation, we’re going to fire you, I think that’s deeply, deeply troubling."”

Wielechowski said he had heard a lot of concern from people across his district. He compared the process to something akin to a “loyalty pledge,” which is “deeply troubling to Alaskans.”

An employee at the Department of Natural Resources, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Channel 2 that many exempt and partially-exempt staff at the office have expressed deep concern over the transition team’s request.

Over the weekend, some state workers also took to social media to share their frustration. On the Facebook page, “Concerned State of Alaska Employees,” some said the move was unfair to prosecutors while others questioned whether it was a misguided attempt to resolve the budget deficit.

Neither Dunleavy nor Babcock were available to speak Monday but the transition team released a statement on behalf of Babcock.

“This is not necessarily the process for reducing the number of State employees. This is more to remind all at-will employees that they work for the people of Alaska,” read the statement. “We are confident that each at-will employee can find a few minutes to submit a letter of resignation to the new governor and let us know if he/she wishes to continue as an at-will public servant.”

The precise number of at-will employees who have received the request remains unclear, even to Dunleavy himself.

“We do not know exactly how many employees this affects, and did not ask. It is a matter of principle, not numbers,” wrote Babcock. “When the people elect a new governor, all at-will employees should submit a letter of resignation. It is a reminder to us all that as at-will employees, we serve the public, and the public elects the chief executive, the governor.”

The Department of Administration is working to clarify the numbers of exempt and partially-exempt employees who have been asked to submit resignation letters before the Nov. 30 cut-off.

A special assistant to the Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Minta Montalbo, said more information would be released Monday afternoon, including a list of answers to frequently asked questions for state employees.

Across the state government, many departments were unaware how many of their staff have been impacted.

Jonathon Taylor, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said the department does not know “precisely how many” exempt and partially-exempt employees have been asked to send in resignation letters.

Over at the Department of Education, Erin Hardin, a public information officer, said she didn’t know which staff had received an email from the incoming administration. “Our employees understand this is a time of transition, and remain focused on serving the needs of our students across the state,” wrote Hardin in an email to Channel 2.

Elizabeth Bluemink, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, wrote in an email that she does “not have the complete numbers and positions at present.”

At the Department of Health and Social Services, spokesperson Clinton Bennett, recommended that Channel 2 reach out to the transition team: “They are the ones who sent out the letters so they would know how many people would be impacted as well as how many emails were sent out.”

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth says she would be "greatly surprised" if the Department of Law looks significantly different after Dunleavy's administration is sworn-in.

Lindemuth explained that the governor can direct the attorney general to hire or fire department employees. But she says such decisions are not to be made without the advice of the attorney general on how that would affect the department's ability to carry out its work.

She says she sensed "no animus" toward the department in speaking with Dunleavy and his chief of staff, according to the Associated Press.

Karen Montoya, communications director with Department of Fish and Game, writes that there are a total of 55 exempt and partially exempt employees in that department, but she "cannot guarantee that everyone has received letters."

Spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, Shannon McCarthy, wrote that she is trying to source a list of employees impacted but that "it's not very many."

A public information officer with the Department of Environmental Conservation, Laura Achee, confirmed that nine exempt and partially exempt employees received the memo. Achee listed the nine employees out of 485 total who received requests to submit resignation letters:

- Commissioner Larry Hartig

- Deputy Commissioner Alice Edwards

- Administrative Services Division Director Jeff Rogers

- Air Division Director Denise Koch

- Environmental Health Division Director Christina Carpenter

- Spill Prevention and Response Division Director Kristin Ryan

- Water Division Director Andrew Sayers-Fay

- Special Assistant Alida Bus

- Executive Secretary Claire Fishwick

The Department of Law, the Department of Revenue and the Office of the Governor did not respond to Channel 2's requests for how many employees had received resignation requests in time for this story's first publication. It will be updated when we hear back from them.