Gov. Frank Murkowski is overhauling his public relations machine, replacing top staff and telling all his departments to get communications specialists.
The governor has a new communications director and is expected soon to have a new press secretary.
"I think it is a reflection of wanting to do things better," said Kevin Jardell, the governor's new communications director. "Not to say we weren't doing a good job ... but it's one area where we think we can do a better job."
Jardell replaced Dennis Fradley, who left the Juneau-based position to become communications specialist for the state-owned Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Fradley said he asked for the transfer back to Anchorage to be close to his grandchildren.
The governor's press secretary, John Manly, said Thursday he will be taking a job in the commissioner's office at the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. He is being replaced by Becky Hultberg, who has been working in the governor's office as a special assistant handling transportation, education and forest issues.
There is evidence Murkowski advisers have long worried about the administration's public image. The governor's chief of staff, Jim Clark, worked with Republican Party of Alaska chairman Randy Ruedrich to put together a poll last fall that included questions about the governor.
An "October poll analysis," which Ruedrich told reporters he wrote, was among the documents that became public during the attorney general's ethics investigation of Ruedrich for doing party work at his state job. The analysis fretted that "Gov. Davis had similar numbers recently." California voters had just recalled Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Trust and openness are our biggest problems. The administration has not engaged Alaskans. The print and electronic media are silent on the good works. There is never a second story on anything good. Therefore we need to go to the public directly," the analysis said.
In September, the governor's office started producing a weekly cable television program called "Our Alaska."
State officials said the new special assistants are meant to help communicate both with the news media and the public at large. The governor told each of the 14 departments to get its own special assistant for communications, and all have.
Fradley, who got the program going, said Murkowski left it up to the commissioners to decide how to handle it within their existing budgets. Some departments added it to the duties of existing employees. Others just changed the title of their public information specialists.
The departments of Military and Veterans Affairs and Community and Economic Development created new positions with salaries of $54,240 and $68,800, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Fradley said the special assistants for communication are to give the news media a point person to ensure questions get answered, to get agency news out to the public and to see that Murkowski and his staff are briefed on questions reporters are likely to ask.
Jardell, who took over from Fradley, said a big part of their jobs is to seek ways to save money on communications. He was deputy administration commissioner taking over as communications chief. Jardell is an attorney with political experience. He worked on the contentious legislative redistricting a few years ago.
The new special assistants for communication themselves come from varied backgrounds. The Alaska Department of Law gave the job to Mark Morones. His last job was communications director for the Alaska Travel Industry Association, and he used to be press secretary for the state Senate Republicans. He is also an attorney and former TV reporter.
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