What others say: More questions than answers

  • Sunday, June 21, 2015 12:09pm
  • Opinion

Most people who threaten others with a firearm aren’t given a paid vacation. But most people also don’t work in the Alaska Senate.

It became known recently that Deborah Grundmann, a staffer to Sen. Charlie Huggins and one of the Alaska Legislature’s highest paid aides, may have been paid since her Dec. 1, 2014, arrest despite doing little, if any, actual work. According to officials in the Senate who did speak with the Empire, she wasn’t even in the state for most of last session while undergoing treatment.

The nature and frequency of Grundmann’s work over the last seven months, and how much of her $10,404 monthly salary has been collected during that time, warrants a closer level of scrutiny. Sen. Huggins, a Republican from Wasilla, has the answers but isn’t taking questions. Now it’s time the Legislative Ethics Committee takes a look into things. Something doesn’t feel right about this situation, and murmurings around the capitol confirm as much. It’s past time someone ask why and how a high-paid government official charged with felony assault with a firearm (who later pled down to a lesser misdemeanor charge) collected a paycheck that wasn’t earned.

Perhaps this is all a misunderstanding, and perhaps since Grundmann’s arrest the state hasn’t paid her a dime she didn’t earn. But Huggins, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and others on the Senate side are being tight-lipped about it all.

Lawmakers, especially the Senate majority, are insisting Alaska doesn’t have money to waste. We agree, which is why Grundmann’s pay should be looked into. Employees taking time off under the Family Emergency Medical Leave Act do so unpaid. And considering Grundmann’s arrest and absence was a result of her own poor decision making, it makes no sense why any of her time off would be paid. Most employers would terminate an employee for far less, so why would the Alaska Legislature have a lower standard? That especially should hold true when the employee in question earns close to what the governor makes.

The appearance of impropriety already exists, and now its up to Huggins to clear the air. Otherwise accusations and insinuations will needlessly linger until the next election. As former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller learned in 2010, just because you stop answering questions doesn’t mean the public or media will stop asking them. Rather, people will draw their own conclusions to make up for the lack of information.

As the state continues to climb out of a budget deficit greater than any it’s seen before, who the state spends money on should be as important as what it’s spending money on.

Hundreds of law-abiding state employees will lose their jobs in July. How lawmakers spend money and on whom matters. To believe otherwise smacks of hypocrisy and belittles the performance of those receiving a pink slip in a few weeks.

The Legislative Ethics Committee must look into Grundmann’s pay and why she was kept on the books. If usual procedure wasn’t followed, the public has a right to know why public funds were misappropriated and if there’s anything scandalous in nature to be uncovered. Dodging questions, playing dumb and hiding behind privacy technicalities isn’t an answer — they only bring about more questions.

— The Juneau Empire, June 21

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