Two of the three staff have resigned from the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB). This stems from the Dunleavy administration attempting to relocate the three Juneau based staff to Anchorage. Nora Barlow, who has been the attorney member of the board since 2010, recently declined reappointment to the board for the same reason.
Annual reports filed by the VCCB show Alana Marquardt, the paralegal, has been with the VCCB since 2008. The reports show Kate Hudson, the executive director, has been with the VCCB since 2009. Both have turned in their resignations. Sources confirm that Pearl Younker, who reports show has been with the VCCB since 2007, is still at VCCB but will not be relocating to Anchorage. Between the three of them they have over 35 years combined experience working for the VCCB.
On December 13, 2019 all three staff members received a letter from Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka informing them their positions were being moved to Anchorage. The VCCB currently resides in the Department of Administration. Per the letter, they had ten days to accept or reject the relocation, which required moving to Anchorage by March 16, 2020. The Landmine has obtained a copy of the letter.
The administration seems to be scrambling to quickly fix this. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) appointed attorney attorney Richard Payne to the board yesterday. Sources confirm that former Representative Liz Vazquez will be taking over as executive director. She was flown to Juneau yesterday to start working and training.
Last week, Tshibaka testified at a meeting of the House Finance Department of Administration Subcommittee. During the meeting she was asked about the decision to move VCCB staff to Anchorage. She said, “We want to ensure a smooth transition of that staff up to Anchorage.” At that point she likely knew that two of the three staff had resigned. In response to questions from Committee members she said the decision to move the staff to Anchorage was a “data driven decision” due to travel issues. In the past the board had met once a year in locations around Alaska. The board stopped doing that years ago due to the state travel ban. Tshibaka ended by saying, “We need to work with the staff to ensure it has minimal disruption on their families.” You can watch her testimony here. It starts at 17:05
But a September 19, 2019 email to Kelly Hanke, special assistant to Commissioner Tshibaka, raised concerns about the apparent reasons for the move to Anchorage. It also stated that, “Finally, all three staff are firmly rooted in Juneau with homes and children enrolled in schools. Relocation is not viable for us personally. If the decision is made to relocate the office, then we would request sufficient advance notice so we could look for alternate jobs.” Staff did not hear anything after that until they received the December letter informing them their positions were being moved to Anchorage. Here is that email:
I sent Kelly Hanke and Commissioner Tshibaka questions regarding this story on Monday. They have not yet responded.
Nora Barlow, the attorney board member who recently declined reappointment, provided the Landmine the following statement:
My term on the board is over in March 2020 and I have declined reappointment due to the loss of the VCCB staff. Replacing both Ms. Hudson and Ms. Marquardt with untrained staff will result in a loss of institutional knowledge that is invaluable to the functioning of the Board and will certainly lead to a significant increase of time and work by the volunteer board members. The board meetings can now be done in half a day due to the excellent preparation of the board packets. New staff will have neither the skills nor knowledge to produce these packets for the board meetings and will likely result in board meetings that last a day or two. Ms. Hudson and Ms. Marquardt speak with victims on a daily basis and have the experience and knowledge to guide victims through the process, which is of great value to the many victims who come to the VCCB. Finally, Ms. Hudson and Ms. Marquardt have built relationships with victim advocates and other organizations that serve victims of violent crimes. These too shall be lost.
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The destruction of the board could have been avoided if the Department had consulted with the board staff and board members. The idea of the VCCB having a presence in Anchorage is not a bad idea and creative solutions short of relocating the entire board staff could have been found.
The VCCB’s 2019 annual report shows they received 1,046 applications in FY2019. 499 were approved, 142 were denied and 255 were unable to be processed. They paid out over $1.4 million in compensation to victims.
The VCCB is funded by state and federal funds. State funds come from PFDs that have been withheld from persons convicted of crimes in Alaska. The federal funds come from a grant.
This is a developing story.