Monday, July 26, 2010

If Alaska Governor Sean Parnell Is To Be Re-Elected, Gene Therriault Has To Resign; Andree McLeod Cries Wolf, And This Time There Is A Wolf

Occasionally, even a blind hog will find an acorn. Only the blind hog in this case, Andree McLeod, may have stumbled upon more than an acorn -- perhaps a sapling, if not yet a full grown oak tree. And it could ultimately cost Governor Sean Parnell his job on August 24th, although a newly-released Hellenthal poll showing Parnell leading by 45 percentage points may make this unlikely. A new Anchorage Daily News story now stitches it all together.

Documents procured and released to the public by McLeod indicate that Governor Sean Parnell offered a job as energy advisor in his administration to Gene Therriault while Therriault was still a state senator. Even though the appointment was not officially formalized until after Therriault's resignation from the state senate, this still appears to be a violation of Article 2, Section 5 of the Alaska State Constitution and AS 24.05.040, as follows:

“During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member".

Here's a copy of the document released by Andree McLeod which is now being described as the "smoking gun". Down on line 5, Therriault clearly signs the document as a new employee on September 12th, 2009, the day BEFORE he resigned from the legislature:

Click on the graphic for a larger depiction, or click HERE for the PDF version

So let's summarize the timeline of critical events:

-- September 1st, 2009: Linda Perez of the governor’s office signed the “Request for Personnel Action” form displayed above. This implies that Therriault already conditionally accepted a "generic" position in the Parnell administration, a position not officially created and named until September 21st.

-- September 12th, 2009: Gene Therriault signs the form.

-- September 13th, 2009: Gene Therriault resigns from the state senate.

-- September 14th, 2009: Designated as the effective date of Therriault's hire after the fact.

-- September 21st, 2009: The Parnell administration officially created and named the position to which Therriault was appointed, and then back-dated the appointment to September 14th.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow did some serious tap-dancing to explain this one. She told KTUU Channel 2 that Therriault's new position was entirely legal because the personnel form shows that the job was officially created on Sept. 21, and then retroactively applied to his first day on the job, Sept. 14 -- the day after Therriault resigned as Senator -- and therefore is not subject to the one-year waiting period. Sept. 14 is listed on the personnel form as the effective date for Therriault's new job. Leighow says a discrepancy in job creation dates and effective days are part of the normal paperwork process with all jobs at the state level as forms get filed, and are never off more than one pay cycle for any given employee. She further explained that the Sept. 21 job date -- not the date Therriault signed the request form -- is the one that makes the job official. And finally, she added that the Sept. 1 date is simply when paperwork for the position was started, and that it does not mean the job was created, which is the threshold under state law.

So far, Gov. Parnell is standing behind Therriault. In an interview on Friday July 23rd, Parnell said the advice he received in hiring the former lawmaker in 2009 was the same legal advice that's been given for decades. He said he acted in good faith and is standing on that legal precedent and practice, which he said allows for hiring if the position was created after the legislator left office. Therriault also has a strong financial incentive to stay put in the $110,000 per year position -- it will greatly increase Therriault's state retirement pay, which is based on the three highest earning years in state government. Dan Fagan discusses this aspect more extensively on The Alaska Standard.

However, another precedent was set after Nancy Dahlstrom recently resigned from a similar patronage position created for her by Gov. Parnell. Parnell appointed Dahlstrom his military affairs adviser under virtually identical conditions. After the Alaska Department of Law determined that Dahlstrom should not have been offered the job while she was still serving in the legislature, she resigned shortly thereafter. Because Dahlstrom resigned, calls for Therriault's resignation are now escalating, particularly from Parnell's number one Republican gubernatorial challenger Ralph Samuels.

The Alaska Dispatch records Therriault's reaction. Therriault says that he actually signed the personnel action form on September 17th, when he returned to Juneau. He offered no explanation as to why a date of September 12th was written on the form next to his signature, though. But a subsequent News-Miner story indicates that Therriault may have signed the form on September 12th, but did not turn it in until September 17th. A personnel technician then entered the information into the database on September 18th.

A recent Rasmussen poll seemingly indicated that both of Parnell's main Republican challenger, Ralph Samuels and Bill Walker, might be closing a once-astronomical gap, although a new Hellenthal poll indicates otherwise. Still, the Therriault appointment could be the breakthrough one of them, particularly Ralph Samuels, needs to overhaul Parnell. Gene Therriault should follow Nancy Dahlstrom's example and resign.

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