What others say: Local hire and honest boards

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 6:17pm
  • Opinion

Dennis Mandell, appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to the State Assessment Review Board, withdrew from consideration with an email late Wednesday afternoon.

He should never have been appointed in the first place.

Parnell stubbornly defended his appointment of Mandell, a former oil company executive who lives in California, to a job the law says must go to an Alaskan.

That appointment to the board, currently in the middle of a dispute among the state, Alaska local governments and the owners of the oil pipeline over the pipeline’s value and its corresponding tax obligation, met resistance from both sides of the aisle in the Legislature.

It’s not the fact of resistance that should get the governor’s attention. It’s the fact that the resistance was justified because the governor was out of line.

Parnell’s choice clearly violated state law, which requires that a member of the board be an Alaska resident — more specifically, a registered voter since before the last general election. Mandell is not. The administration at first claimed that the governor was abiding by the Alaska Constitution, which requires only that a board member be a U.S. citizen. That hardly gives the governor the right to ignore subsequent law passed by the Legislature.

Then the administration referred to a 1973 record about the intent of lawmakers, some of whom said the governor should have greater latitude in appointments. But the administration had no answer when challenged with the clear wording of the law, which left no room for ambiguity, no matter what lawmakers might have said about intent.

On Wednesday, the governor refused to withdraw the Mandell appointment and argued that the residency requirement was unconstitutional, and that a 1976 Supreme Court ruling backed him up. That’s questionable; the ruling applied only to executive branch department heads — Cabinet members — not to appointments to citizen boards and commissions.

Further, all of this occurred after the governor fired Marty McGee, chairman of the assessment board, under whom the board put the pipeline’s value — and its tax bills — much higher than either the state or the oil companies did.

Parnell’s decision to fire McGee and his subsequent appointments looked like the work of a man firing and hiring to get the assessment he wants and lower tax bills for the pipeline owners.

Parnell’s appointment of Mandell simply didn’t pass the red face test. Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat and the Senate minority leader, was on target with a comparison — what if Gov. Tony Knowles during his administration had appointed a Berkeley environmentalist to the Board of Game? Sen. John Coghill, a Republican and the Senate majority leader, was on target when he said even if Parnell was right about the legal argument, he faced the political argument:

Parnell couldn’t find a qualified Alaskan? No sale.

There’s the matter of wise policy too. Alaskans expect Alaskans to serve on their boards and commissions because, at least ideally, they’re looking out for the common good of Alaskans and doing so independent of partisan concerns. They serve at the pleasure of the governor and with the consent of the Legislature but their obligation is to their fellow Alaskans. A hired gun (even if the hire is only for travel expenses and per diem) may be more sensitive to the one who hired him than to the common good.

At best, Parnell’s appointment was ill-advised. At worst, it was an illegal bid to get the pipeline assessment he wants. If Mandell hadn’t withdrawn, the Legislature should have rejected the appointment. And Parnell should get the message now.

— Anchorage Daily News,

March 13

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