Thursday, June 14, 2012

Anchorage School Board Member Pat Higgins Under Fire For Extended Absenteeism; He's Working 4,000 Miles Away In Kwajalein

A member of the Anchorage School Board is taking criticism for excessive absenteeism, but it's not attributable to negligence or sloth on his part. Pat Higgins has taken a job 4,000 miles away in Kwajalein as a human resources specialist with Chugach Alaska Corp., a Native corporation that provides services for the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, and he's unable to attend most of the school board meetings in person. He last attended a school board meeting in person in April, and is not expected to be back in town until August. Higgins says he plans to continue traveling back and forth between Kwajalein and Anchorage for the foreseeable future.

By all accounts, Higgins has sought to stay engaged on the issues. He calls in and participates via phone and online for discussions and votes, and school board members and the superintendent say he's well prepared for meetings and has played a significant role in the direction that the board has set. Furthermore, ASD Board Policy 121.5 is murky when it comes to attendance at board meetings. It states that when a Board member has unexcused absences from three consecutive regular meetings, other Board members may declare the position vacant. Unexcused absences are not precisely defined.

However, staying engaged on the issues is not enough for David Boyle, who published a call for Higgins' resignation on Alaska Policy Forum back on May 30th. Boyle maintains that Higgins needs to stay engaged with the community as well. Other duties such as visiting schools and attending graduation ceremonies require a physical presence. Thus Boyle questions whether Higgins can fully represent the constituency from 4,000 miles away. Of course, since school board seats are not geographical, a constituent can contact any school board member to express a concern.

But it just looks awkward. Would a member of the Anchorage Assembly be permitted to conduct business from 4,000 miles away? How about a member of the Alaska State Legislature? And how about if an ASD student and his family were to move to Kwajalein? Would the student still be allowed to remain enrolled in the District? Absolutely not.

The Anchorage Daily Planet, edited by leading conservative pundit Paul Jenkins, has editorially weighed in on June 14th, and also calls for Higgins to resign. They question how an absentee board member can even begin to perform his full duties and give district employees and parents his full attention when he is working in the Republic of the Marshall Islands - 2,000 miles west of Honolulu. It is not a matter of whether he is a good board member or not, it is a matter of his being absent from Anchorage - where the board position is located.

Outgoing Superintendent Carol Comeau, who gives way to Jim Browder on June 30th, says she has sought a written legal opinion on the matter, which should be complete next week. KTUU Channel 2 reported that the school board asked an ASD attorney to look into the matter, and a new draft legal report shows Higgins is allowed to work long-distance. School Board President Jeannie Mackie interprets the report to mean that the board has no authority to remove a member for this under current state law.

I'm with David Boyle on this issue. It doesn't matter how well Higgins remains engaged; it just looks awkward to be trying to serve on a local school board from 4,000 miles away. He needs to be asked to make a choice by August. I would consider tying it to Permanent Fund Dividend eligibility; if his extended absences render him ineligible for a PFD check, then he shouldn't be eligible to continue serving on the school board.


  1. Recall petition anyone?

  2. Recall Petition available as of Friday 10/19
    help with the effort

  3. Not just "attending" meetings by phone - "attending" executive sessions by phone, too. You know, those super-secret sessions that contain potentially damaging information about individuals? How is it possible to "attend" an executive session by cell phone? Exactly how secure is that? Who else is listening to the school board's executive sessions?

    Pat Higgins, resign already!

    Oh, and by the way, during the last campaign wasn't one of your charges against a competitor that as an airline pilot he might not be physically present at all the meetings?