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Walker team 'strongly’ objects as Dunleavy transition asks all at-will Alaska state workers for resignation letters

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Saturday pushed back after Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy’s transition team sent an email Friday to all at-will state employees, asking them to submit resignation letters and, if they choose, reapply for their jobs.

High-level political appointees typically change with governors. But the request went to a bigger group of state workers than occurred with previous incoming governors, according to Dunleavy’s transition team.

“Such a move is customary when a new administration takes over, but the governor-elect has broadened the scope of which employees have been asked to take this step,” said a statement emailed by Dunleavy communications director Sarah Erkmann Ward.

Expanding that scope to include all at-will state employees, rather than a smaller, more select group, “typically has not been done in the past,” she said in another email.

Dunleavy, a Republican, will be sworn in on Dec. 3.

It was not immediately clear how many employees received the email, which was sent after “close of business” on Friday, said a text from Austin Baird, Walker’s spokesman. The email was directed at exempt and partially exempt employees, which could affect upwards of 1,500 workers.

Such employees are typically not represented by unions, and often perform specialized roles, such as petroleum geologists, audit masters and attorneys, officials said. The list includes employees with quasi-independent agencies, such as the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, as well as most attorneys in the Law Department, officials said.

Walker, an independent, said that during his transition four years ago he requested resignations from about 250 senior political appointees with the administration of Sean Parnell, a Republican. He kept many of them, seeing their jobs as important to Alaskans, he said in a written statement Saturday.

“Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s call for the resignation of nearly all exempt employees, on the other hand, is creating anxiety and uncertainty for committed, nonpolitical public servants such as prosecutors who work tirelessly to keep our state running," Walker said.

“My team strongly advised the incoming administration against the approach they are taking,” Walker said.

At an Anchorage hotel Friday night for a speech, Dunleavy told a Daily News reporter, “We look forward to talking with a whole bunch of folks" in Walker’s current administration.

“We want to give people an opportunity to think about whether they want to remain with this administration and be able to have a conversation with us,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy’s transition chairman, Tuckerman Babcock, said employees are being asked to submit resignation letters, but that doesn’t mean those resignation letters are automatically accepted. The request does not affect classified employees, Babcock said.

“(Dunleavy) just wants all of the state employees who are at-will -- partially exempt, exempt employees -- to affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration,'” Babcock said. “Not just bureaucracy staying in place, but sending out the message, ‘Do you want to work on this agenda, do you want to work in this administration? Just let us know.’”

Later, he said, "I do think this is something bold and different, and it’s not meant to intimidate or scare anybody. It’s meant to say, ‘Do you want to be part of this?’”

Dunleavy, a former Republican state senator, ran on a platform that included shrinking state government and balancing the budget.

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The goal of the email Friday is “not necessarily” to start the process of reducing government, according to an email Saturday from Erkmann Ward. It’s more about letting the employees know they work for the people of Alaska, she said.

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

Employees are being been asked to submit their resignation in writing on or before Nov. 30.

“Acceptance of your resignation will not be automatic, and consideration will be given to your statement of interest in continuing in your current or another appointment-based state position,” the memo said.

The other alternative for at-will workers who don’t submit a letter of resignation is termination from the job, Babcock said.

“If you don’t want to express a positive desire, just don’t submit your letter of resignation,” Babcock said. “And then you’ve let us know you just wish to be terminated.”

The memo said state employees submitting resignation letters should send them to Team2018@alaska.gov, a state website. Those who want to reapply for their position should do so at governormikedunleavy.com, the official transition web site.

Babcock said a private site is being used because the Dunleavy team “just wanted to be sure we were up and running on day one.”

He said it also ensures that any problems with the process will be on the Dunleavy team, not the Walker administration.

More than 250 employees in the Department of Law are being asked to submit resignation letters, including nearly all the attorneys, a spokeswoman for the department said.

That will certainly impact morale, said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

“Uncertainty is hard for anyone,” she said Saturday. “I have assured our department that I spoke with the governor-elect earlier in the week about what a great department we had, and I sensed no animus toward our department.”

“I believe that when this process is over that the department will look very similar to what it does now,” she said. “I appreciate the desire of the governor-elect to ensure he has the best and brightest in state government; fortunately, that's what this department already has.”

Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, said none of the group’s 8,000 members are affected by the letter.

But he said he experienced a similar situation in 1990, as an assistant district attorney who had just moved to Bethel from Anchorage when Wally Hickel was elected on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket, replacing Democrat Steve Cowper.

Hickel, during his transition, proposed a similar approach to Dunleavy’s, said Metcalfe, a former chair of the Alaska Democratic Party.

“It’s groundhog day,” Metcalfe said. “I had just made a life decision to move to rural Alaska and I was uncertain I would have a job.”

It created unnecessary stress and distraction in state law offices, he said.

“I don’t see the point of it, other than messing with people,” Metcalfe said. “By throwing a monkey wrench into things it at least slows down business. And you may lose someone who is valuable.”

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