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Records support Dunleavy appointee’s defense against plagiarism allegations

Amanda Price, commissioner-designee for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, appears during a press conference April 16, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — In mid-May 2016, Alaska lawmakers had just passed the criminal justice bill known as Senate Bill 91. Then-Gov. Bill Walker was considering whether to sign it, and behind closed doors, one of his senior policy advisers was opposed.

Three years later, that policy adviser, Amanda Price, is Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s choice to lead the Alaska Department of Public Safety, and her record as a Walker adviser is coming under scrutiny ahead of a confirmation vote in the Alaska Legislature.

On Wednesday, Price will be among dozens of cabinet officials and commission members seeking confirmation from a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, and lawmakers believe her vote will be among the closest of the session.

Among the most serious questions levied at Price is whether or not she committed plagiarism while working for Walker.

In a Tuesday hearing of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, read an 2016 email from Jordan Shilling, a staffer then working for Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole and the prime sponsor of SB 91. Shilling now works for the Dunleavy administration.

Shilling had just been forwarded a copy of correspondence purported to be Price’s analysis of problems with the bill.

“Instead, what she really sent was a word-for-word copy of a document ... sent me over a month ago,” Shilling wrote.

“It’s insulting that her plagiarized, misrepresented drivel would even be considered by the governor,” he went on to say.

That message was subsequently forwarded to then-Gov. Bill Walker, accompanied by a warning.

On Tuesday, Price told the committee that the staffer, who now works for the Dunleavy administration, misunderstood the email.

“I in no manner plagiarized,” she said.

Shilling, in an email responding to questions about the incident, said tempers were running high at the time, and he used “aggressive language” without meaning to accuse her of legally plagiarizing.

In 2016, Price’s message was first sent to Lacy Wilcox, who was working as deputy legislative affairs director for the governor. (Wilcox is now employed in the marijuana industry, occasionally as a lobbyist.)

Wilcox said she had been assigned to present Walker with the pros and cons of signing SB 91 into law. Price was also working for the governor, but out of Anchorage instead of Juneau.

The pair didn’t interact frequently, but when they did, “It was all very pleasant. … We certainly got along well,” Wilcox said.

Department of Public Safety commissioner-designee Amanda Price (center) prepares to hold a press conference with subordinates from the Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

Wilcox heard Price had concerns with SB 91 and repeatedly tried to get Price’s thoughts. As Price explained Tuesday to the House committee, SB 91 wasn’t part of her portfolio, but she had close ties to law enforcement because of other work.

Wilcox found it difficult to get Price’s opinion, she recalled in an interview, and it took multiple messages to get Price to agree to send some thoughts.

When she did, those thoughts came as an email attachment labeled “SB91 Comments 04212016.docx”

There was no name attached to them or identifying marks. Wilcox (and, later, the legislative staffer) took them as Price’s remarks. In Price’s recollection, she didn’t intend to pass them off as her own.

The attachment has the same, unchanged label as an identical document sent April 21, 2016, from the president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.

In an interview, Price was asked if she intended to pass off that work as her own.

“No. That’s just not behavior that’s reflected in my work history or performance,” she said April 9.

Hours after forwarding the legislative staffer’s email to Walker, Wilcox had second thoughts about the way she handled the plagiarism allegation.

“The more thought i give this, the more I regret sending this email to you,” Wilcox wrote to Walker.

“I may have failed to communicate with Amanda what I was hoping to get from her,” she wrote.

Price and Wilcox each said the matter was never brought up by Walker, and Price stayed a member of Walker’s staff until March 2017, when she was asked to resign by Scott Kendall, then serving as Walker’s chief of staff.

Price’s nomination as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety is up for confirmation in a joint session of the Alaska Legislature beginning at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Correction: This article has been edited to more correctly portray Lacy Wilcox’s thoughts on the plagiarism allegation in 2016. It has also been edited to remove a statement that Price advocated the veto of SB 91.

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