Casting shadows during Sunshine Week

  • Saturday, March 28, 2015 8:26pm
  • Opinion

Gov. Bill Walker ran on a platform of transparency, so an action by his communications office March 16 that came during the celebration of the Freedom of Information Act known as “Sunshine Week” was doubly ironic.

Our reporter DJ Summers heard there had been a letter sent from a federal agency to Walker regarding upcoming North Pacific Fishery Management Council nominations.

We asked Katie Moritz from our sister paper the Juneau Empire to stop by his office to get a copy. Moritz was told by Ty Keltner, the communications coordinator for Walker’s office, that there was a letter from the U.S. Commerce Department that had been received on Feb. 3.

The only catch was that Summers would have to file a public records request if he wanted to see it. Summers dutifully filed the request March 16 at 4 p.m. We eventually got a response from Walker’s public records specialist Angela Hull that it had been received as we neared press deadline on March 18.

In the meantime, however, we had already gone ahead and asked the ever-helpful Julie Speegle at the Alaska Region of National Marine Fisheries Service on March 17 if she could get us a copy from the Commerce Department. Less than a day later, Speegle had connected us with the Maryland headquarters and we had a copy of the letter signed Jan. 28 without any help from Walker’s administration.

And, we’ll add, without having to fill out a Freedom of Information Act request.

Turns out the letter Keltner withheld from a simple inquiry was essentially a form letter from NMFS outlining the process for nominating candidates and a deadline for when materials had to be received. A big nothingburger that contained little we didn’t already know about the nomination process.

Having time to respond, search and retrieve a large amount of records is a reasonable provision in the Alaska Public Records Act. However, what the governor’s communications office pulled by withholding an innocuous letter they acknowledged existed and when it was received hardly lives up to Walker’s claimed commitment to transparency.

The only thing transparent about this action is how trifling it was.

— Alaska Journal of Commerce,

March 19

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