Thursday, September 3, 2009

Celtic Diva Hits One Out of the Park

Linda Kellen at Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis has managed to use emerging information on the makeup, planning, deliberations and policies of the governor's Rural Action Sub-cabinet, assess that in light of what she has so throughly learned about Alaska policies, in her quest for truth and accountability, and come up with what probably should have been obvious to the rest of us who are also looking into this:

The meetings have been, are and will continue to be totally illegal, until they begin to follow state law as to how to handle them.

Here's some of Linda's post:

I could list dozens of State of Alaska agencies who, along with the Personnel Board, post their public meetings responsibly (and ya'll know that I am FAR FROM a fan of the Personnel Board). They post online, where the public can access the information no matter where they live in Alaska and it's done in a timely fashion so folks who don't live in Anchorage can make plans to be there.

Alaska actually has an Open Meetings Act (AS 44.62.310) which "is a law that addresses public meetings and protects the public's right to know and opportunity to be heard." Within that Act is a section discussing that "reasonable notice" should be given of a meeting:

(e) Reasonable public notice shall be given for all meetings required to be open under this section. The notice must include the date, time, and place of the meeting and if, the meeting is by teleconference, the location of any teleconferencing facilities that will be used. Subject to posting notice of a meeting on the Alaska Online Public Notice System as required by AS 44.62.175 (a), the notice may be given using print or broadcast media. The notice shall be posted at the principal office of the public entity or, if the public entity has no principal office, at a place designated by the governmental body. The governmental body shall provide notice in a consistent fashion for all its meetings.

Note the mention of AS 44.62.175...the Alaska Online Public Notice System. It is a requirement for the Lt. Governor to maintain an online public record which includes "(2) notices of state agency meetings required under AS 44.62.310 (e). As we could see with the Personnel Board, most meet that requirement by announcing public meetings on their agency websites.

Interestingly enough, the Rural Action Subcabinet doesn't have their own website..."why" is another question worth asking.

Of course there are plenty of very appropriate places that could be used to post these meeting announcements, including the Division of Community & Regional Affairs headed by Advisory Committee member, Director Tara Jollie. However, while they announce meetings of other organizations, they do not announce meetings regarding the Rural Action Subcabinet.

Ms. Jollie clearly cannot be ignorant of the legal requirements, considering the DCRA website provides a page dealing with the Open Meetings Act, including a discussion of what constitutes "reasonable notice":

There are minimum mandatory notice requirements for certain actions, such as notice of a public hearing on a proposed ordinance, or election notice. There is, however, no specific number of days spelled out in statute that defines "reasonable." The general tone of case law on the subject has essentially found that reasonable notice provides enough notice that a concerned party will have notice of a proposed action within enough time to be involved in the deliberations. This could vary anywhere from three months to three days.

The Rural Action Subcabinet cannot plead ignorance of the law, so they are clearly violating it (in the very least, the "spirit" of the law) with their eyes wide open. My suggestion to the Subcabinet is that they fix this

I asked the new governor for information on policies of the rural sub-cabinet back in late July. I eventually got a partial answer to my questions. Ann Strongheart has been doing the same, only with far more detail and persistence - and she's been writing about it. Dave Donaldson from APRN had a 30-minute talk with the new Attorney General about this last week.

But Linda has - once again - hit one out of the park, with her unparalleled knowledge of public meeting law.

image - anonymous bloggers


jim said...

I'm not sure if Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet meetings are subject to open meeting laws-- I think the Executive Branch may be entitled to hold non-public meetings (so-called "executive privilege"). I've heard back from the Department of Law and that seems to be their claim. But others should approach them too. I wouldn't email-- I'd call them.

However the Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet's Advisory Panel may be another story. The public has basically been left out of the loop and the selection of advisory panel members also occurred away from the public. There may be valid concerns with this part of the process and the fact that the public wasn't invited to these public advisory meetings.

We also need to know exactly and comprehensively what they have been talking about.

If either of these groups don't want to include Alaskans, in a meaningful way, in their business, then the solution here is to just trash the credibility of any proposal that they may submit to the legislature as an outcome of their closed process. Why did they need to exclude Alaskans?

This all goes back to the previous governor and her exclusion of Alaskans. Much of this is a relic of that administration. The new governor may try to act more inclusive, but I'm skeptical-- the gubernatorial campaign has already begun. Obviously he will be a candidate and he'll have a hard time saying he's doing anything other than campaigning.

Anonymous said...

With tactics like this, Sean Parnell can just start calling himself a lame duck governor. Maybe Sarah Heath-Palin should have handed the reigns over to the democrats.

jim said...

Around August 1, I had heard from the Department of Law that the upcoming August 17 meeting would be a subcabinet meeting (I wasn't aware it would be an advisory panel meeting-- as it turns out both groups were there although it was the quarterly advisory council meeting).

On August 5, 12 days before this meeting, I had emailed the Department of Law and encouraged them to make the August 17 meeting public. I also encouraged them to set up an 800 number rural people could call to listen to the meeting and to make comments. I noted that I had seen no announcements of any past or planned subcabinet meetings on the State's website.

jim said...

And there I go, calling the advisory panel the advisory council. It is so easy to slip up and confuse people.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one last thing-

I asked the Department of Law if Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet meeting minutes are available to the public. They responded no, they are not. They suggested if I disagree I should file a public records request. I responded that they should just try to adequately summarize what happened in those meetings. I haven't heard anything more after that, although they said they're working on it.

Subcabinet minutes aren't available, but supposedly Advisory Panel minutes ARE available, but I haven't seen anything that would come close to accurately summarizing in great detail what happened at any of the three quarterly Advisory Panel meetings that have occurred. (There have also been about a half dozen subcabinet meetings). After the Strongheart tragedy I haven't followed up asking for greater detail. I'll wait and see what they send to others. Ann has requested more information too.

jim said...

I could have sworn I posted the "one last thing" comment above as jim, just so you know.

jim said...

Apparently the Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet's Advisory Panel members, who were appointed by the Subcabinet itself, are not one of the State's boards or commissions:

They are an "advisory panel."

The Alaska Pioneer's Home has a "Pioneers' Homes Advisory Board." Would this board's members be subjected to Executive Branch Ethics Act oversight? Would members file disclosures with the State? Would they be required to hold open meetings?

Are Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet Advisory Panel members subject to EBEA oversight? Were they required to file disclosures? Are they required to hold open meetings?

These people belong to a group who were selected by executive branch personnel to give advice to the State. Seems like a formal designation and function to me.

I had contacted and asked if they had any information about the Alaska Rural Action Subcabinet's Advisory Panel and (you guessed it) they never got back to me.

Philip Munger said...

Jim - I have also made the 800 number suggestion - both to John Moller in my letter to him, requesting an interview, which he agreed to, then backed out of - and in my letter to Gov. Parnell on rural issues. There should be an 800 number to Moller's office, and one shouldn't have to go thru the Gov's main office to get to Moller's office. There should be an 800 number to the rural advisory panel meetings, and it would be a good thing for them to be, as Celtic Diva suggests and Ann Strongheart has suggested, made public over the web or over the state's TV channel, as they occur.

Aussie Blue Sky said...

I'm sure there's a very good reason that Moller's job is completely controlled by the governor. I'm not wired in a way to guess what it is, though.

jim said...


The guy I talked with at DOL referred to the 800 number proposal as a "creative idea." Perhaps that's code words for crazy. Obviously they have no intention of deploying an 800 number.

I doubt any tangible progress will be made before a new executive branch administration replaces the old.

Bones AK said...

Sarah certainly has left a lot scat in her wake, one such pile of scat is John Moller. Parnell is not doing us proud, at all.

InJuneau said...

All legislators have the right to have an 800 number for their offices (and the ones who choose not to are the ones who complain most loudly about a lack of access for their constituents, but that's a topic for a whole other rant), so I don't see why it would be such a problem for Moller to get one for his office (wherever it is, as I'm sure it's not here).

Also, if they'd just have their danged meetings in a LIO connected office, some people could at least get to their local LIO office and connect up.

Additionally, GCI has a very spiffy "Meet Me" line system the State uses whereby an 800# call-in line can be set up for any meeting anywhere in the state. Publish the number and the call-in code, and you're set. Wouldn't even have to have a dedicated 800#, and it would work wherever they decided to have meetings (as IF they seem inclined to meet anywhere but Anchorage...)

Anonymous said...

I wish someone would tell Linda her blog is hard yo read! Great Info but i cant read light text on dark backgriund...

Martha Unalaska Yard Sign said...


Those are excellent points! There are several of us who have questioned the lack of access via dedicated web page, toll free number, location of office, hours and schedule - Moller won't answer any and is nothing but vague. He says he's out in the field, so doesn't have access to his work phone. Ridiculous? What is a cell phone for exactly, if not to check messages left ANYWHERE?

These people are wasting our time, whether through incompetence or purposeful bureaucratic style stalling, disorganization and lack of a master plan. I believe the next step is to directly ask all of these questions, bullet by bullet, regarding ACCESS to Moller and the ARA Subcabinet (and maybe the confusingly named Rural Advisory Panel), and send to all parties. At some point, someone will be forced to give actual information! Imagine that!

Martha Unalaska Yard Sign said...

I will add...

I agree with the poster who believes that it's likely the best course action to appeal to the Legislature to disband this group, the ARAS, as ineffective, confused, and undeserving of the name "Alaska Rural ACTION Subcabinet" as there is no tendency of this group to do anything "action" related (I embellished on the original thought).

Then the Governor can start over with a new Administrative Order, with input from real Rural Alaskans and Natives. Otherwise, they will continue to squander the opportunities and funds needed for the real work which needs to be done.

The State is by nature not proactive - it just spawns more shuffling committees with fancy agendas, serving tea and cookies in the heart of Anchorage if we do not ask questions and provide oversight of the process.

We have spent hours trying to obtain information in order to determine whether this highly touted ARAS is actually useful to Rural Alaskans and advocates. What a waste of resources if this continues...