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So far, Gov. Walker slow to make public his appointment calendar

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 3, 2015

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker was in New York City on Tuesday, advocating on Alaska's behalf in meetings with the firms that evaluate the state's finances for investors.

As has been the case, the governor's office gave no official notice of the trip. It doesn't distribute details of Walker's public appearances on a daily or weekly basis.

In fact, Walker — who campaigned on a platform of transparency — is continuing a practice of his predecessor, Sean Parnell, of releasing his schedule only after the fact.

The practice can sometimes leave the public in the dark about Walker's appearances and travel, but a spokeswoman said it's necessary for his protection.

"The governor's security is put in place for reasons that I don't question," said spokeswoman Grace Jang. "And until there is a reason to re-evaluate publishing his schedules in advance, we're just going to keep things as they are."

Chief executives in government elsewhere, however, give the public and the press some measure of advance notice.

In Wyoming, the office of Gov. Matt Mead publishes a list each Friday of the following week's public engagements including speeches, meetings and ceremonies.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee's aides give email updates to reporters once or twice a week on the governor's upcoming appearances and activities, said media relations director Jaime Smith. A recent update she sent included a trip to the Super Bowl by Inslee and his wife, as well as a speech he gave at a legislative conference.

New Hawaii Gov. David Ige intends to post a weekly public schedule on the Internet, said Cindy McMillan, his communications director. The goal, she said, is to keep reporters informed about "where he's going to be and what he's doing — and if they want to go, they can go."

But she acknowledged she had not yet cleared the idea with Ige's security detail.

"Oh gosh — I hadn't thought of that," she said. "Maybe the security detail won't let me do what I want to do."

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown does not distribute a public schedule and gives only occasional notices of public appearances on his website, according to an employee in his press office.

President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio do release daily public schedules in advance, though in both cases, the schedules are far from complete. In Obama's case, his office releases only "the schedule that they feel like releasing," said Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University in Baltimore and an expert on presidential relations with the press.

More detailed logs of presidential activities are recorded and released later, she said.

Unlike Parnell, Walker has given frequent press conferences and has been available for interviews with reporters. Jang also pointed out that Walker's schedules are "plenty open and accessible to the public after the fact, when it's not a security threat."

Gary Wheeler, who spent nine years on the security detail for Alaska governors Tony Knowles, Frank Murkowski and Sarah Palin, said much of their daily schedules were not confidential. But the secrecy, he added, was necessary to manage "people and threats."

The security detail, he added, was always inclined to limit access to information.

"Our number one goal was to protect the governor and family, and that was paramount to us," Wheeler said. "So while we sympathized with a lot of other things, that was our mission."

While Alaska especially has a tradition of "free spirit," gregarious politicians, Wheeler said, "the life of a governor kind of changes the day they take office." The members of the security team, he added, aren't trained any differently from members of details in big cities like New York.

"Whether or not we had the same number of threats, probably not," he said. "But Alaska certainly has the potential, just like any other state."

Ronald Kessler, a conservative author who has written a book about the Secret Service, said Walker's office's security concerns were understandable. While Obama releases a daily public schedule, the Secret Service has "more resources to protect the president."

"I don't think it's that clear-cut a situation," Kessler said in a phone interview. "I sympathize with the governor."

Al Cross, the chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' government relations committee, said advance schedules provide reporters with an opportunity to track down public officials to ask them questions. The two weeks it took for Walker's office to release his calendar seemed like a long time.

"If he wanted to be a governor of transparency, he would be for giving public records immediately, or as soon as possible," Cross said. He added, however, that since Walker had been office less than a year, "he's in a whole new ball game — and maybe he'll get more comfortable with it."

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