Complaint filed against ex-administrative head

Former Commissioner Jim Duncan accused of violating state ethics law by taking job with union

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

A complaint has been filed against Jim Duncan, the former commissioner of the Department of Administration, accusing him of violating a state ethics law by taking a job with the largest state employees' union.

Duncan says he's done nothing wrong.

"I'm not in violation of that act simply by taking a job with ASEA," Duncan said. The Alaska State Employees Association represents about 8,000 state workers.

Duncan, a former state senator from Juneau, headed the Administration Department for two years, leaving Nov. 30, just before the administration of Gov. Tony Knowles ended.

The ASEA hired Duncan this month as its business manager, the top administrative job.

Donn Liston, a former ASEA business agent who was fired by the union in 2000, filed the complaint Friday with the Department of Law.

Liston said while working for the state, Duncan was responsible for negotiations with all of the state's unions. By taking a job with one of those unions, Liston charges, Duncan is violating the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

"He was responsible for negotiating an agreement with all the state labor unions, and I think for him to turn around and take a job for them would be no different than if he was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation and turned around and went to work for Exxon," Liston said.

The act says a public employee must wait two years before representing, advising or assisting someone on a matter that was being considered by his department and in which he participated "personally and substantially through the exercise of official action."

Liston's complaint says Duncan was "intimately involved" in all aspects of state negotiations with the 12 state employee unions from the time of his hire until his departure from the Department of Administration.

Duncan said that's not the case.

He helped with contract negotiations in 1999, when he was a special assistant in the Administration Department, but he played no role in the current contract negotiations, Duncan said.

He left his state job Nov. 30, and current contract talks with unions didn't start until Dec. 20.

He has been careful since taking the ASEA job not to do any work that would violate the ethics law, Duncan said. He requested an appendix be added to his contract with ASEA making clear that he and the union's board recognized he was bound by provisions of the state law and would fully comply with it, Duncan said.

He will not be lobbying the Legislature this year, Duncan said.

Also, he said, the union's bargaining team for contract talks was in place before he took the job, and he is neither the chief negotiator nor the spokesman for the team.

"I may, of course, be consulted, and I'll know what's happening at the table," Duncan said. "I might even sit and listen at the table."

Under the law, the attorney general's office reviews ethics complaints to determine, first, whether the allegations would be a violation of the law if they are true.

If the answer to that question is yes, the office would begin an investigation.

The state lawyer who handles ethics complaints was out of the office Friday.

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