Too much secrecy

State personnel law goes too far in protecting public employees

October 14, 2008 

On Page 79 of his Troopergate report, investigator Stephen Branchflower has an excellent recommendation.

When someone files a complaint against a state trooper or other public employee, "At the very least, the law should provide for the release of some information to the complainant regarding the status of the case."

That's not the case now. Alaska law sharply curtails what the public can know about a public employee. As Branchflower pointed out, the frustration felt by Gov. Sarah Palin, her husband and her father was real. When they tried to find out the status of complaints against trooper Mike Wooten, they were told the information was confidential.

"The law prevented the troopers from giving them any feedback whatsoever," Branchflower wrote.

Left in the dark, they did what many of us would do -- fear or suspect the troopers were protecting one of their own.

Branchflower is right. The protection of employee confidentiality here is out of whack. He argues for amending the law to restore some balance between public trust and employee confidentiality.

This is especially true in cases like the Wooten investigation, where troopers are investigating one of their own in a secret, in-house process. Alaskans discovered the particulars of the Wooten investigation and suspension only after Wooten himself authorized release of the information.

Alaskans should have a right to know the status of a complaint. They should be able to find out swiftly when there are changes in that status. And they should be entitled to know the outcome of an investigation, including disciplinary action.

The troopers did investigate and discipline Wooten. But only a few Alaskans -- those doing the investigation -- had any way of knowing that. That needs to change.

BOTTOM LINE: Too-strict confidentiality of public employee records undermines public trust.

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