Dwight Perkins, a top official at the Alaska Department of Labor for most of the past six years, resigned today after being sentenced on a charge of misdemeanor harassment.
Labor Commissioner Ed Flanagan, in a voice mail message to the Empire's Capitol bureau at 3:25 p.m., said: "Dwight Perkins resigned, effective close of business today." Flanagan said he accepted the written resignation letter, which was not immediately available.
Perkins, who pleaded guilty to the harassment charge Jan. 2, ran afoul of an administration personnel policy, according to officials.
"The commissioner has taken the right action," said Jim Ayers, chief of staff for Gov. Tony Knowles. "This has been a very difficult and tragic situation for everyone involved."
Flanagan said this morning that before he made a decision he needed to meet with Perkins, who had been on personal leave since Wednesday. Apparently that meeting took place this afternoon.
On Thursday, District Court Judge Peter Froehlich sentenced Perkins to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, suspending 60 days of the jail term and allowing Perkins to satisfy the rest through community work service. Froehlich also ordered probation, counseling and restitution to the victim, whose breast Perkins grabbed in an incident Oct. 1.
Perkins, former deputy commissioner of Labor, started work as legislative director for Knowles Nov. 6. Ten days later he was arraigned on two harassment counts, one of which was later dropped in a plea bargain. The former Juneau Assembly member left the governor's office and returned to Labor as Flanagan's special assistant on Nov. 21. He had appeared regularly at legislative hearings this session.
Flanagan has said there is "zero tolerance for sexual harassment" in the Department of Labor. Knowles spokeswoman Claire Richardson reaffirmed today that the administration's policy is not to tolerate any kind of harassment.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, expressed concern Thursday about the public relations problem presented by the case, stopping just short of saying that Perkins should be dismissed. "I think with the facts of the plea that the commissioner will have a difficult time explaining why a deputy commissioner is kept in that public a position."
But chairmen of the legislative committees on Labor and Commerce, Anchorage Rep. Lisa Murkowski and Eagle River Sen. Randy Phillips, both Republicans, said today that they didn't know enough about the case to judge whether Perkins could remain credible as a lobbyist for the department.
In court Thursday, the prosecutor and Perkins' victim said he didn't appear remorseful.
District Attorney Rick Svobodny, who sought 30 days of actual time behind bars for Perkins, scoffed at a letter from Perkins' counselor saying he has "boundary issues."
"It sounds like he's going canoeing in Minnesota. 'Boundary issues' are the least of Mr. Perkins' deviant behavior," he said. " 'Boundary issues' aren't putting your hand down somebody's dress and fondling their breast. ... This defendant is stuck somewhere back before the colonization of this country."
Defense attorney Thomas Nave said the district attorney "exercised himself to a degree that I have not seen done in a Class B misdemeanor in the last 24 years."
Nave stressed that Perkins, 47, has been married for 24 years and has a daughter in high school. "I would submit to you that it's the private Mr. Perkins who's before the court today and who is here to receive justice -- not some newspaper's notion of who and what he is," Nave said. The defendant had a troubled childhood, including an alcohol dependence that lasted into middle age, he said.
Perkins has declined several requests from the Empire to tell his side of the story.
Before sentencing, Perkins said he was "sorry for the reason I'm here in court today" and expressed regret at embarrassing friends, family and employers. But he didn't apologize to his victim, who was present.
The victim, Aleeza St. Clair, told the judge that Perkins "has shown little remorse for his actions and continues to express to his friends that, quote, 'she deserved it' or that he is being sentenced for something he didn't do."
In arguing against jail time in court Thursday, Nave said Perkins has been punished sufficiently. Aside from losing the best job he ever had, "He stands a pretty fair chance of not having a job," the attorney said. Leaving court, Perkins said he didn't know what Flanagan's decision would be.
Before Perkins' resignation Friday, Lauree Hugonin said she was troubled that he appeared to be given "more latitude" than a normal offender.
While the Knowles administration generally has been good on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, the vaunted "zero tolerance" policy was in some question while Flanagan's decision was pending, said Hugonin, executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, a non-profit coalition in Juneau representing 20 community-based programs statewide.
She also was troubled by Perkins describing his problem as "boundary issues," particularly given affidavits from four other women alleging incidents in which Perkins forced a woman's hand into his crotch, cornered a woman on an elevator and rubbed a woman's inner thigh during staff meetings.
"These are really aggressive, unacceptable, controlling behaviors," Hugonin said. "I still don't see him taking responsibility for his actions."
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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