Dunleavy sacks three members of State Compensation Commission, chair resigns days before barely-noticed meeting

Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) removed three members of the five-member State Officers Compensation Commission today. The move happened the day before a meeting of the commission that was only noticed for two days.

Kurt Olson, a former representative who chaired the commission, resigned yesterday, according to an email obtained by the Landmine. The fifth member, Lee Cruise, resigned last week after accepting a job with the Department of Revenue, which prevents him from serving on the commission.

The House and Senate recently rejected a pay increase for the governor, lieutenant governor, and department heads that the commission recommended in January. Their report did not include recommendations for a pay increase for legislators, who are paid an annual salary of $50,400 plus per diem.

Sources report the purpose of the meeting scheduled for tomorrow at 1 pm – which was only noticed yesterday and will include all new members – is to amend the previous salary increase recommendations to include an approximate $34,000 raise for legislators, raising their total compensation to approximately $84,000 per year.

The reason for the rushed meeting is because the Legislature transmitted the bill rejecting the pay raises to Dunleavy on March 8, which gives him until March 25 to act. The commission is required to send a compensation report at least once every two years but not more than once a year, meaning they cannot reinitiate the process until next year. However, they can amend the existing report.

Alternatively, the Legislature could act on their own at anytime to increase pay for themselves, the governor, lieutenant governor, and/or department heads. But that would be a messy process, and several legislators are hesitant to pass a bill giving themselves pay raises.

State law requires a 20-day notice for members of boards and commissions to review new items, but a board or commission can vote to lessen that time frame. As of today the entire commission is new, meaning there has not been a vote to waive the 20-day notice requirement. What will likely happen at tomorrow’s meeting, after they elect a new chair, is that the new members will vote to waive the 20-day notice requirement for a meeting that was noticed two days ago—without the notice requirement having been waived.

In Olson’s resignation email, he wrote to the state director of personnel, “With mixed feelings I am resigning today from the State Officers Compensation Commission Board. Several members of Senate Leadership have held up salary increases for the Governor, Lt. Governor, and a number of department heads. Our recommendations were in the form of cost-of-living adjustments for 5-10 years.”

Today, Dunleavy sacked Larry Persily, Carrigan Grigsby, and Arnye Randall from the commission. The letters Persily and Grigsby received from Dunleavy are below. Sources confirm Randall received the same letter.

So far, the roster for the commission only has one new member, Donald Handeland, who replaced Lee Cruise. Handeland, an active member of the Alaska Republican Party, is the District 24 party chair. Handeland is one of Dunleavy’s three members. When contacted, he declined to comment for this story.

The five-member commission is appointed by the governor, but two members must be chosen from at least two names submitted by both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. Olson was the previous Senate member and Persily was the previous House member.

Both House Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla) and Senate President Gary Stevens (R – Kodiak) sent names to Dunleavy. Stevens told the Landmine he submitted four names to Dunleavy, but did not have conversations with any of them about legislative compensation, or even if they wanted to serve on the commission.

Speaker Tilton’s office said they were contacted late yesterday by the Governor’s Office and were asked to provide at least two names for the commission. Two names were provided today, and Tilton had no conversations with either of the them, according to the Speaker’s Office.

A source confirms the other new members Dunleavy appointed are Miles Baker, Larry LeDoux, and Jomo Stewart. Baker, who recently left his role as Dunleavy’s point person on the infrastructure bill, is another one of Dunleavy’s picks. Larry LeDoux, the superintendent of the Kodiak Island Borough School District and former Education commissioner, was chosen from the four names Stevens sent. And Jomo Stewart, president/CEO of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation and a former legislative staffer, was chosen from the two names Tilton sent. A fifth member that Dunleavy can chose has not yet been appointed.

When asked about his removal from the commission, Persily told the Landmine, “Calling a meeting with 48-hour notice, then halfway through removing everyone from the commission, is a poor way to run government. And it taints the process. Even if the outcome is good public policy in terms of pay raises for legislators, the way they are getting there is bad policy.” Persily added that he supports a pay increase for legislators, noting that raises are long overdue. He said the salary report sent to the Legislature in January did not include pay raises for legislators because the commission could not agree on specifics.

Three members will need to be present at tomorrow’s meeting to have a quorum.

Kurt Olson did not respond to a request for comment. This is a developing story.

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14 days ago

Just in.
Those new members yust recommend a 67%raise for legeslators.

Lynn Willis
13 days ago

This is another variant of the now old “promise state cash for power” Dunleavy deal. isn’t it? Thanks for this report, Jeff. Dermot Cole also adds some insight reminding us that unless they vote to reject this “special PFD just for them” this raise is automatic; therefore, the Governor and legislators can claim” “I never voted a pay raise for myself”. So, on the same day Dunleavy’s new board is appointed this “like thinking” group of government “strap hangars” and political sycophants opens the slop chute and grants a lame duck Governor and a legislature (none of whom is running… Read more »

10 days ago

I would bet that it was Stedman and Giessell that told Dunleavy if he wanted anything done they were going to get the pay raise. Remember that it was the financial strain that of living in Juneau during the legislature session that cost Dunleavy an ally in former Senate President Pete Micciche. If not, he would see a legislature like the last four years, where he was effectively throttled in so many of his goals. It will be interesting to see if this indeed bears fruit.