Guards criticize commissioner in heated corrections meeting

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Corrections officers lashed out at Commissioner Joe Schmidt on Tuesday during a meeting over allegations that he and other top administrators are mismanaging the state agency.

Guards said the administrators are not hiring enough guards and won't acknowledge dangerous health issues, like constant exposure to MRSA, a hard-to-treat staph infection.

The guards, who are members of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, made their complaints in front of a dozen lawmakers with 50 or so corrections officers looking on.

Schmidt and his deputy commissioners, who have the support of Gov. Sarah Palin, claim the union is playing dirty to get what it wants: more control over the department and its management.

Schmidt says he has made many difficult changes since being appointed at the end of 2006 - reducing overtime, promoting rehabilitation programs and pushing aggressively for ways to reduce costs.

Some legislators at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting listened impartially to what the heated dispute, while others, notably Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, appeared to have already decided which side to support.

"I have never, never heard a commissioner speak so disparagingly of the people who work for him," Ramras told Schmidt. "It is hurtful to morale."

Schmidt told Ramras he "felt bullied" and wants the union to "come to the table" to discuss the issues.

The internal bickering between the union and administration reached a crescendo in April when the union passed a no-confidence vote against Schmidt.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, has called for an investigation by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee into the union allegations.

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