Walker questions Dunleavy transition’s approach to resignations

At-will state workers are learning more about what the resignation request from Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy’s transition means for them. It’s also raised concerns from leaders of Gov. Bill Walker’s administration.

Walker said he only asked 250 people to resign four years ago, and they were only in senior, political roles. That’s compared to approximately 800 resignations the Dunleavy transition team has asked for.

“As an Independent, I chose to retain many of those appointees as well as other state workers who served under Governor Sean Parnell but viewed their jobs as service to Alaskans rather than partisan political activity,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker said his team strongly advised Dunleavy against the blanket resignations, which he said are “…creating anxiety and uncertainty for committed, nonpolitical public servants such as prosecutors who work tirelessly to keep our state running.”

Tuckerman Babcock, the transition chairman, said the resignation requests allow at-will workers to let the transition know they want to be part of the Dunleavy administration.

A large share of the workers who received the email asking for their resignation are prosecutors and other lawyers with the Department of Law and Office of Public Advocacy. They also include some oil and gas experts.

Leslie Ridle, the commissioner of the Department of Administration, said many workers who had to submit resignations work in positions that are difficult to fill, often at lower pay than they’d receive in the private sector.

“We compete for employees, just like Conoco, BP, law firms – everybody – doctors,” she said. “And pretty soon, we’re going to be unable to hire those positions, because people won’t want to work for us. We’ll be an undesirable employer.”

In a statement, the transition team said it disagrees with Ridle and believes that the state will continue to be seen as an excellent place to work.

Ridle said the transition’s blanket resignation request goes against what she’s communicated to state workers.

“This is what I say to employees when I hire them: ‘Your position would be partially exempt. You technically could be asked to leave at a change in an administration, but most likely you won’t. They rarely go below the director or deputy director positions, to lay them off,’ ” Ridle said.

When asked if she was concerned about the transition team looking to workers’ political leanings as a reason to ask them to resign, Ridle said yes. She said workers shouldn’t have to worry about what they say outside of work.

“State employees are American citizens too and have a right to the First Amendment of free speech,” Ridle said. “When they’re outside of their job, they have a right to legal free speech, just like everybody else does.”

But transition spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann Ward said workers’ political philosophy will “absolutely not” be used by the transition in deciding whether to accept workers’ resignations.

The extent of the resignation requests is becoming clearer. On Friday and Monday, 804 workers received emails. The departments with the most requests are Law, with 263, and Administration, with 107, followed by the governor’s office, with 101.

There are a total of roughly 1,200 state workers who are exempt or partially exempt from the state’s personnel law — but some are protected from the resignation request by state law. Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said the department isn’t aware of a list of which employees are protected.

The Department of Administration has prepared a list of answers to frequently asked questions from those asked to resign. If workers who were asked to resign want to keep their jobs, they have to say so in a response to the email asking for their resignation. If they want to change jobs, they can apply through the Dunleavy transition website.

“When the people elect a new governor, all at-will employees should submit a letter of resignation,” said Babcock.  “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.”

More email notices were expected Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the governor’s office.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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