"Journalists were objective, right? Just the facts, ma'am. I wrote a few stories that tried to poke through the public illusion of the legislature as a high-minded, public-spirited institution, but somewhere between the copy desk in Anchorage and my own constipated sense of fairness they often wound up being 'he-said, she-said' stalemates at best."(pp. 56-57)I've been covering the Redistricting Board since March 2011. I generally try to present the facts and let the readers come to their own conclusions. But sometimes, like now, I feel like Weaver. And so in these two posts, I'm going to try to explain what I think is going on here and why. I'm going to comment on the visible facts and speculate on what we can't see.
In this post I'll give the background. In the next post I'll move to speculation about why this has happened.
The Perfect Applicant Gets Rejected
If God herself had wanted to intervene in the Alaska Redistricting process, She could not have created a more perfect candidate to be the Board's Executive Director than Laurel Hummel.
Yet they chose not to hire anyone. How could that be?
The job requires knowledge of geography and mapping including GIS.
Laurel Hummel has a PhD in Geography, specifically human geography which would come in particularly handy when the board has to determine things like socio-
This job requires knowledge of Alaska Native culture.
Laurel Hummel did her doctoral dissertation on the impact of the US military in Alaska on the Alaska Native population. As part of her dissertation she traveled around Alaska meeting Alaska Native leaders to discuss those impacts. She's a human geographer and talked about how by understanding that different people had different 'truths' one could hope to understand them and find ways to consensus.
The job requires management skills including working with the press and consensus building and understanding confidentiality.
Laurel Hummel went through a long list of examples of situations in her 30 year military career where she displayed these skills, including the integration of women in Afghan institutions (I didn't quite get the details here -
There were things that she didn't have personal experience actually using - like the Alaska Public Meetings Law, or the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act. Yet she had read them, discussed them knowledgeably, and had dealt with similar laws at the federal level. It wouldn't take long to get up to speed. Like a day maybe. Compared with the need to get up to speed with the GIS software, which the Board all had to do, but which Hummel already has used. This is a non-issue.
There was nothing about this candidate not to love for this job.
Chronology of the hiring process
Feb 12 - After the Alaska Supreme Court said, in December, that the Board had to start all over because they hadn't followed the Hickel Process, the Board met to discuss its next steps. After a lengthy legal discussion about the Alaska Supreme Court decision, the Board's Petition for Reconsideration, and the Shelby County v. Holder decision still to be heard at the US Supreme Court then, they talked about their time line for finishing up. This included interviewing for a new Executive Director around March 14.
Feb. 24 - The Alaska Supreme Court rejected the Board's petition for reconsideration.
Feb. 27 - The US Supreme Court heard the Shelby County v. Holder case and court watchers speculated that the conservatives on the court sounded inclined to rule for Shelby County, though it was not clear how sweeping such a ruling might be.
March 8 - The Board posted notice of meetings on March 13-14 to review applications and interview applicants on their website. There was a link for people who wanted to listen online.
|Screen shot from Board's website - click to make it bigger and clearer|
March 12 - I contacted the Board to find out if there would be a back up phone-in option if the LIO connection didn't work. (This has happened in the past.) I was told that the Chair had decided that since the meeting would mostly be in Executive Session and there would only be a brief public opening of the meeting, there wouldn't be a teleconference of the meeting.
March 13 - I checked back in the morning and talked to the Chair pointing out that the agenda had the attorney talking about legal issues before the Executive Session and the Board member comments after the session. I also pointed out that the teleconference link had been advertised on their website. He said he'd think about it and shortly after I got a call saying I would be able to listen via the Legislative tv channel online.
The Board met. Board attorney White spoke about the Shelby County case and its possible impacts on the Board's work, then the Board went into Executive Session.
I also had asked how many applicants there were (originally six, but one had dropped out at that point) and was told that they would all be interviewed. I knew about the 1982 Alaska Supreme Court decision saying that for high level policy making positions, applicants' names and resumes needed to be available to the public. So I emailed back to get the names and was told that no one had asked that question, they hadn't gotten permission from the applicants to release the information. So no I couldn't have them.
March 14 - At the meeting, attorney White explained that the Anchorage Daily News requested that the Board release the names of the applicants and referred to the Supreme Court case. He said they had notified the applicants that their names would be released. One applicant dropped out rather than be publicly noted. Another dropped out, not having realized the job wasn't permanent. White also said it wasn't clear whether it was required to have the interviews public, but the Board had decided to do that.
So, at the last minute, the Board released the names and the interviews were public.
In the next post, I'll speculate on why the Board did not choose a new Executive Director.
Actually, the next post turned out to be a look at the Supreme Court case the Anchorage Daily News cited in getting the meeting opened. Examining it, it's clear that the decision to NOT hire should have been made in public too. Actually most of the deliberations on the candidates should have been in public.