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Alaska Editorials

Associated Press Updated: September 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

September 10, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Regents come right on bonus issue

On Monday, the University of Alaska's Board of Regents gathered to consider the issue of President Patrick Gamble's $320,000 bonus for the second time this year. This time, they got it right. After their near-unanimous decision to approve the retention incentive for Mr. Gamble generated widespread public outrage, the regents were just as unified in their vote to rescind the bonus, voting 9-1 to do away with the extra year's salary that would have been given to the president if he stayed in his position through 2016.

The reason Mr. Gamble gave to the board in asking them to reconsider the matter was the "optics" of the bonus's timing. That was certainly a valid concern: the public, not to mention the university's students, faculty and staff voiced strong opposition to the message sent by the regents extending the bonus while approving a budget that cut millions of dollars from departments across the university's campuses. Nearly 1,500 signed their names to an online petition stating the bonus was "fiscally and morally irresponsible at this time."

But in addition to the optics, it's hard to argue that the bonus was the best investment the university could make. Yes, Mr. Gamble has had a difficult job balancing the needs of diverse campuses and student populations, as well as the demands of the Legislature in seeking to develop the state's workforce. But at an annual salary of $320,000, as well as medical and retirement benefits and a free house in which to live, Mr. Gamble is well compensated already. Part of his task has been choosing where to pare back as the Legislature faces budget pressure, which has meant cuts to such obvious public goods as the Alaska Summer Research Academy and KUAC-FM and TV here in Fairbanks. There are surely similar cuts pending in Anchorage and Juneau, many of which will impact the quality or quantity of university services. Weighed against summer research opportunities for Alaska high school students — ones which establish relationships with researchers and no doubt draw students into University of Alaska science programs once they graduate — it seems hard to support giving funds instead to the university's top officer alone.

We're glad to see the bonus matter resolved, though, because it will allow Mr. Gamble and the Board of Regents the opportunity to focus on decisions that deserve deeper thought. With tough budget times forecast for the state and all of its divisions, even more difficult decisions are surely ahead, and it will take a solid plan and good execution by the university to avoid even more painful cuts. It will also take a strong push by the university and those that care about it in Juneau to convince the Legislature that the university is well worth the state's money — and that argument will be much easier to make without a $320,000 elephant in the room.

_____

Sept. 7, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Findings of report on Alaska National Guard shock, disappoint

"I am extremely frustrated and I am angry that it has taken this long to get to the bottom of these issues. In hindsight it clearly should not have taken this long and I offer my deepest apologies," Gov. Sean Parnell said at a press conference Thursday after announcing the results of a federal investigation into misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. The report's findings were damning: it found cases — often unreported due to mistrust of Guard leadership — of sexual assault, misuse of government property and fraud.

At Thursday's conference, Gov. Parnell told reporters he had asked for and received the resignation of the Guard's Adjutant General Thomas Katkus. But he was right — the widespread issues plaguing the Guard between 2007 and 2011 had gone too long without response. Most of the responsibility for that inaction lies with the Guard and its command structure — and some rests with Gov. Parnell, its commander in chief. Both would be well advised to take lessons away from a years-long scandal that eroded faith of Guard members in their branch of service. Undoubtedly, the public's faith in the organization has been eroded as well.

Unquestionably, much of the blame for the conditions in the Guard falls on the shoulders of the Guard's chain of command. The National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations found problems both inherent to the Guard's structure as well as hostile environments that were ignored or in some cases encouraged by commanding officers. The report singled out the Guard's recruiting and retention arm as a particular source of issues, including "misuse of government vehicles, fraud, adultery, inappropriate relationships and sexual assault." Contributing to those issues was the reportedly close ties between the unit's commander and Gen. Katkus, giving what some Guard members described as an air of invulnerability.

The nature and number of incidents found by the National Guard Bureau are disturbing, and what makes them more tragic is the time span between when reports first began to surface of problems in the Guard and the date on which meaningful action was finally taken. Despite reports of serious problems to Gov. Parnell's administration as early as 2010, the administration's response appears to have been to defer to Guard leadership on cleaning up their affairs. We don't think Gov. Parnell was deliberately sweeping Guard problems under the rug as the report found had been done within the organization itself, but he deferred to Gen. Katkus' leadership for too long.

In January, Gov. Parnell told interviewers that Gen. Katkus had been diligent in his efforts to root out problems in the Guard, despite a thorough and specific account of sexual assault allegations published months earlier in the Anchorage Daily News. It wasn't until the end of February that Gov. Parnell finally sought outside assistance in dealing with the issues. It was that federal investigation — not any state action — that finally exposed the nature and extent of the issues in the Guard. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the fact that they continued to flow to legislators and administration officials after Guard officials said the organization had made appropriate changes to address the situation, the governor should have shown less deference to Gen. Katkus' handling of the problems, and asked for a third party to investigate earlier. While it wouldn't have helped those who had already suffered under the misconduct within the ranks, it would have shown that Gov. Parnell was taking the issue seriously, in line with his policy of rooting out domestic violence and sexual assault across the state.

The National Guard Bureau's report won't be the end of the reporting on misdeeds within the Alaska National Guard. Based on their report's findings, the bureau also plans to investigate cases of fraud within the organization. We hope that Gov. Parnell's efforts to reform the Guard to ensure such misconduct won't be tolerated in the future don't stop at the resignation of Gen. Katkus, but extend as far as necessary to restore the confidence of Guard members and the public that the organization can be trusted.

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