Sunday, November 15, 2009

Open and Transparent does not exist in Alaska's State Gov't

Alaska’s state government has been heavily criticized over the past few years from all sides for a lack of transparency. Criticisms have been made about meetings of the Legislature and the Executive branches held behind closed doors, along with the penchant for the judiciary to hide the crimes of their own.

It is one thing for a candidate to rail about the lack of transparency of the opposition’s administration, then to take office and repeat the same offenses. Sarah Palin railed against Murkowski’s closed door meetings with the oil companies. When she took office, she did the same, including closed door meetings with the Legislature. Sean Parnell’s Administration continues the practice.

What is hidden from we peons is a practice that is an affront to the idea of a constitutional government and the rule of law that is supposed to protect us all. Worse is the damage to the concept of openness in disclosing the machinations of a regime through public disclosure.

The State’s Freedom of Information Act has been compromised along with the disclosure of any document from any branch for any reason by a practice that is so cynical and so abhorrent in its intent so as to make a mockery of the words “open” and “transparent” when referring to an administration’s conduct.

What am I referring to? I am referring to the requirement of the Department of Law to review investigations and documents requested by FOIA under AS 40.25.100-120 and/or any document requested from a State agency for any reason.

The documents which can be refused are defined under AS 40.25.120. Certain aspects for the basis of refusal are a case of “duh” in terms of the obviousness of the need for discretion. However, the State has taken this need to protect its own to a new low.

Documents so reviewed are subject to being redacted, meaning information is changed at the discretion of the Assistant Attorney General reviewing the documents in question. One has to wonder how that sets with the courts to received documents so redacted?

Further, why would it be necessary to send any documents not meeting the criterion under AS 40.25.120 to the DOL for review? Every agency in the State has a legal department that should be competent to review the documents in question without subjecting them to further review by then DOL. In imposing this added bar to open and transparent government, an administration can selectively filter anything that it does not want to disclose, and who is the wiser? How do we peons know that DOL actually conducted a review of the documents in question?

Even the courts can be circumvented by this malarkey.

How do I know about this impediment to open and transparent?

I have requested the results from two investigations by the Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs into the conduct of a certain appointee of the last two administrations. I am also a subject of those reports and have never been privy to the contents thereof. Yet, DMVA has delayed the disclosure of those reports for months, and when I finally informed them that I wanted to review and then copy as provided for under AS 40.25.100, I was informed that the documents in question would be sent to the DOL for review with respect to AS 40.25.120. How long will this process take? Who knows? It has been months and months for DMVA to disclose the existence of documents that are one year and 4 years old respectively, and still no end in sight as my being able to review a copy of either document.

I had to provide the Director of Administration the author’s name of one of the reports, as this individual indicated that DMVA could not find it. Now, DMVA miraculously found it, and it, with the other report, is allegedly headed to DOL for review, even though DMVA has attorneys on staff.

I firmly believe, and it is a matter of standing precedent, that when one is appointed to a post in an administration by the governor, one is in the public eye. Further, one’s conduct and performance are a matter of public record, and that the results of any investigation are public record. That’s just part of the price for holding one of those well paying political appointee jobs.

In the present case, the subject of the reports was an appointee of both the Murkowski and Palin Administrations and was a good friend of the current Lt. Governor Craig Campbell.

It is too bad that Gov. Sean Parnell cannot see that open and transparent is not withholding lawfully requested documents from one of the subjects of those reports. It sets a dangerous precedent and definitely shows that the Parnell Administration is a mirror of the Palin hypocrisy.

I also discovered this policy also applies to reports made to such agencies as the Office of Children Services that one has made in defense of a minor. If you make a report to OCS in writing, then request a copy of that report at a later date for a court proceeding, you might receive a redacted copy.

CYA should not exist in State government. It is time that such self serving conduct ended. Better the AG’s time be spent on prosecuting the law, than hindering the disclosure of conduct on the part of a state official that might turn out to be embarrassing to an administration or two.

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