Ex-Fairbanks mayor: Borough was about to fire Joe Miller

Jill Burke

miller-sign_7630Jim Whitaker, former mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, alleges that U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller used borough computers in 2008 in a failed attempt to become head of the Alaska Republican Party.

Whitaker's accusation came Wednesday, two days after Miller refused to answer questions from the Alaska media about whether he had ever used borough offices or equipment for partisan activity. The allegation was first reported by Alaska Dispatch on Sunday through an anonymous source.

At Monday's press conference, Miller vowed to stay silent on anything having to do with his background or private life until at least after the election. Miller's reluctance to talk about the allegations during his time at the borough upset Whitaker, prompting him to speak up.

"It did make me angry," said Whitaker, who was mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough from 2003 to 2009. "That event (politicking on borough time) happened on my watch, and I am obligated to tell the truth."

According to Whitaker, Miller -- a part-time attorney for the borough from June 2002 to September 2009 -- used other employees' computers to send "proxy votes to get himself elected as the chairman of the Republican Party."

Miller's campaign did not return a call or an e-mail Wednesday seeking a response to Whitaker's accusation.

In March 2008 -- during the Alaska GOP convention -- Miller was vocal about his support for ousting state party chairman Randy Ruedrich. "We're doing this so we can tell the public, ‘Look, we're behind the public and its motivation to clean up government,' Miller was quoted saying at the convention, according to ChampionNews.net. "That's what this is all about, and to make sure the public understands that the Republican Party is a party of ethics and not corruption."

The allegations about Miller's politicking on borough time are similar to what got Ruedrich in trouble in 2003 when he used state computers and e-mail to conduct Republican party business while working for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. His then-co-worker Sarah Palin blew the whistle on Ruedrich's activities, and he ended up paying a $12,000 state ethics fine.

Whitaker called the computer use a "significant breach" of borough policy over which Miller likely would have been fired had it not been for his crucial role in a borough case involving the value of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Miller was reprimanded and was supposed to receive leave without pay, Whitaker said, although he didn't recall if the discipline was ever carried out.

While Miller resigned from the borough in 2009, Whitaker said that had Miller not left on his own he would have been fired.

The issue allegedly stemmed from Miller's unwillingness to cancel a hunting trip, time off for which his supervisor was going to deny him because the office was short-staffed. One attorney was out for a pregnancy, another after a heart attack, and the office couldn't afford to have anyone else gone, Whitaker said.

"The borough attorney came to see me and said she thought she was going to have to fire him," Whitaker said. "But she called the next morning and said the problem had resolved itself. He resigned."

Whitaker's claims come two days after Alaska Dispatch filed suit in state court against the borough for the release of Miller's employment records to prove or disprove the accusations. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has now also sued, and Miller has already joined one of the lawsuits as an "indispensable party" and is expected to join the other, too.

Miller's lawyer is Thomas Van Flein, who has represented Sarah Palin and her family in recent years. Van Flein has put the borough on notice that in addition to fighting against the release of his records, Miller plans to get to the bottom of alleged leaks of his personnel file from borough employees.

"Personnel records are confidential and the release of these records is a crime. We have information that someone from within the Borough has been leaking information from the file. We will be subpoenaing witnesses to investigate this," Van Flein wrote in an Oct. 11 letter.

Alaska Dispatch attorney D. John McKay is arguing that there are exceptions that call for making some borough employment records public, noting that the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled on a number of occasions that "applicants for high government positions expose their private lives to public scrutiny." The high court has said that information and personnel records can be made public when the matter affects the public, McKay said.

In his letter to the borough, Van Flein stated the borough must protect its employees and uphold the nondisclosure law. "In our review of the statute we were not able to find any borough policy or ordinance that alters the law when an employee runs for office," Van Flein said. "Let me remind the borough that it is merely a government entity obligated to follow the law. It is not a partisan advocate, and Mr. McKay's pleas to the borough to violate its own personnel laws to help his client during an election cycle is neither appropriate nor necessary."

Whitaker said he has never seen Miller's personnel file. He has knowledge of the ethics violation and the near firings, he said, because as mayor borough managers, including Miller's direct supervisor, kept him in the loop.

"I was a public figure for 15 years," Whitaker said. "When you're a public figure, you're just that -- you're a public figure. When you run for the U.S. Senate, you don't get to hide your record."

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.