Parnell commissioner purge includes gas pipeline leaders

COMMISSIONERS: Half are on gas line team; Gov. Parnell says he wants new leadership.

November 9, 2010 

Gov. Sean Parnell has accepted the resignations of six commissioners, including top members of the state's North Slope gas pipeline team.

Parnell said Tuesday that he is still dedicated to the state's plan for developing the multibillion-dollar gas project launched by his predecessor, former Gov. Sarah Palin. The state's plan has been controversial since its adoption in 2007 and each of Parnell's opponents in the governor's race he won last week tried to use it against him, calling it a failure and waste of taxpayer dollars.

The governor said he wants new leadership on the state's gas line team to take the project to "the next level." That means working with state legislators over the next year or two to figure out how North Slope gas flowing through the proposed line should be taxed, he said.

Taxation has been one of the major sticking points for the project in recent years, with the North Slope's major producers -- Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips and BP -- saying they won't commit to a project without certainty about how they will be taxed.

Nineteen state officials serve on the state's gas line team; as of Tuesday, three of the top-ranking team members had resigned, including two commissioners and the deputy natural resources commissioner who led the team, Marty Rutherford.

WAVE OF RESIGNATIONS

All six of the commissioners leaving their jobs were appointed by Palin. They managed the state's departments for natural resources, revenue, education, public health, transportation and support services for state agencies.

The six will remain in their posts until Parnell's new four-year term begins on Dec. 6, according to the governor's office.

They are:

• Tom Irwin, natural resources.

• Pat Galvin, revenue.

• Annette Kreitzer, administration.

• Larry LeDoux, education

• Bill Hogan, health and social services.

• Leo von Scheben, transportation.

After winning the governor's race last week, Parnell asked for all 14 commissioners to hand in their resignations, saying he was looking for fresh leadership. The governor said they could also ask to keep their jobs.

"Some of those people will be rehired," Parnell said last week. "Some will not."

Deputy commissioners and division directors who work under commissioners have been asked to submit their resignations by Friday.

Besides Rutherford, the two other top members of the gas pipeline team who lost their jobs are Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin and Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin.

The gas project is still in early stages: Two competing pipeline companies -- one led by BP and Conoco Phillips, the other led by TransCanada Corp. and Exxon Mobil -- say they have received conditional bids from prospective gas shippers but no firm commitments yet.

Under the state's plan, Palin granted a license to TransCanada, making the Canadian company and Exxon eligible for $500 million in state reimbursement for their spending to advance the pipeline. The state hopes to have the gas line built and producing gas by 2020.

WHO'S STAYING

Other department heads will keep their jobs, including Dan Sullivan, the attorney general; Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation; Click Bishop, commissioner of the Department of Labor; Joe Schmidt, commissioner of the Department of Corrections; Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; Joseph Masters, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; and Susan Bell, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, according to Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

The fish and game commissioner's position is open, with Denby Lloyd resigning last month in the wake of drunken-driving charges.

While the governor has accepted Galvin's resignation, Galvin has expressed interest in staying with the administration, Leighow said.

Parnell said he plans to appoint most of the new department heads by Dec. 6, when he starts his new, four-year term. He became governor in July 2009, when Palin resigned.

Parnell said he thinks all of the outgoing commissioners did a good job for the state.

"Every commissioner that has served with me has done so with integrity," he said.

"It is my desire to move us forward in a slightly different way on the same path," he said.


Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

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