Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Open Meetings Act Matters

The Redistricting Board met today - and are meeting in Executive Session to select a new Executive Director as I write this - in open session to interview three candidates to be their new Executive Director.

In this case, there was one candidate whose qualifications and performance were so far above and beyond the other two candidates that I can't imagine that the Board, under any circumstances, could not have chosen her.  Dr. Laurel Hummel, retired Army Colonel and PhD in geography simply had the perfect blend of skills for this job plus she was so well prepared for the interview that she demonstrated her abilities to be prepared, to do her research, and her communications skills.

This job requires a lot of work using GIS software to map election districts.  It also helps to understand Alaska and the diverse needs of our population - particularly, because of the Voting Rights Act - Alaskan Natives.

As a geographer, Hummel has worked with GIS software - particularly the type used by the board ARC.  Her doctoral dissertation was on the military's impact on Alaska Natives.  She's traveled the state and met with Native leaders on these issues and other related issues.

The Board shouldn't have a difficult time coming to a decision.  This is one of those situations where the decision is made for the Board.

The Board is a very political body.  It makes the districts for the state House and Senate.  Of the three candidates, only one appeared to have political connections to the Board.  Brian Hove was an aide to Republican State Senator Ralph Seekins and Fairbanks Board Member Holm welcomed Hove and alluded to their acquaintanceship. 

If the interviews hadn't been public, it would not have been as obvious to the public, how significantly better qualified Hummel was than the other two.  The Board could have mumbled something about confidentiality and hinted at something in her record or interview that disqualified her.  Of the three candidates - Hummel and Morse both said they couldn't start for about four weeks.  Hove, on the other hand, said he could start immediately.  That could have been a reason given to hire him.

But after being (electronically) present at the interviews, it's clear that it would take Hove longer than four weeks to catch up with where Hummel already is today.  In fact he could never catch up with her uniquely perfect qualifications for this job.

As I said before, I don't think this Board has any choice but to select Hummel.  Even if the interviews were not public, they still would have no choice.  And I think the Board members know that Hummel will make their jobs much easier and they would select her under any circumstance.

But another body might well, and certainly have in the past, used confidentiality of personnel matters to conduct their interviews in Executive Session and this open interview process shows how important it is to do this publicly.

I applaud Rich Mauer and the Anchorage Daily News for pressing the Board to do this.  And I applaud the Board for deciding to conduct the interviews in public.

[I should mention that I had never even heard of Laurel Hummel until she began her interview with the Board.  I was just that impressed.  Doesn't happen that often.]

[UPDATE:  Board chose not have an Executive Director.]

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