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Media outlets say governor lags on National Guard public records requests

  • Author: Richard Mauer
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 29, 2014

Asserting that Gov. Sean Parnell's office is holding up disclosure of public documents related to the Alaska National Guard scandal, two media outlets are asking a state judge to call an emergency hearing and order at least some of the material released.

The request for a hearing was filed Wednesday in the public records lawsuit brought by Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media against Parnell and the office of the governor.

Litigation in the suit, originally filed Oct. 8, had been on hold because the Alaska Attorney General's Office had agreed to cooperate with the news plaintiffs and expedite the search for relevant records. At least 10 attorneys in the Alaska Department of Law have been reviewing the records for non-disclosable confidential or private material and forwarding documents to the governor's office for final consideration before release.

In the filing Wednesday, media attorney John McKay said some 12,300 emails stored in the state's electronic databases had so far been found to be relevant to the public records requests.

"To date, not one of these has been turned over," McKay said in his filing. (Two email threads from the personal account of Parnell's chief of staff, Mike Nizich, were released late Friday.) If records are found not releasable because of privacy or other considerations, they should at least be listed in a "privilege log" that should also be turned over, McKay said.

The effort being applied by the attorney general's office has apparently not been matched in the governor's office, McKay said. While the lawyers in the attorney general's office had told McKay to expect a "rolling release" of documents and logs as they were cleared, that hasn't happened.

McKay said the hold-up appeared to be the governor's office, officially the client of the attorney general and where the final decision on document release is made.

"These documents are relevant to a significant issue in the gubernatorial election to be held next week," McKay wrote. "Plaintiffs have been led to believe that documents would be provided, but they have not been, and at this point there is no indication that the Office of the Governor -- the same agency whose inaction made this suit necessary in the first place -- intends to allow the release of these documents before the election."

For months, news organizations and activists have been seeking emails and other records that might show how much Parnell and his staff were told about leadership failures, sexual assaults and harassment, fraud and other problems in the guard, and what was done before Parnell called for help from the Pentagon in February. Parnell's special counsel, Randy Ruaro, issued a blanket denial to some of the requests before the media lawsuit was filed.

The Pentagon's report, released last month by the Office of Complex Investigations of the National Guard Bureau, was scathing in its condemnation of Alaska guard leadership. In the aftermath, Parnell fired the guard's top officer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, and the top civilian in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, McHugh Pierre. Other guard officers have since been dismissed from their posts.

In his filings, McKay asked Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller for his assistance "in unplugging this bottleneck by requiring the Office of the Governor to immediately provide the records and logs at issue." He also asked for an order enjoining the governor's office "from further obstructing, delaying or denying access to records and privilege logs at issue."

Miller ordered a hearing for 1:30 p.m. Thursday.