AG: Dept. of Law erred in hiring advice

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2010

JUNEAU - A former lawmaker resigned from a newly created military affairs adviser role Friday as Alaska's attorney general acknowledged shortcomings in the legal analysis and advice given to Gov. Sean Parnell in his hiring of Nancy Dahlstrom.

In May, Dahlstrom announced her resignation from the state House to become the governor's military adviser, effective June 1. But questions were raised about the timing of the job offer and whether it was in line with state law and the Alaska Constitution.

The state Supreme Court has found that the state constitution's "ineligibility clause" is meant to keep lawmakers from creating jobs in hopes of securing those jobs, Attorney General Dan Sullivan wrote in a legal memo Thursday.

Because of that ruling, a court might disagree with his state Department of Law's earlier analysis that Dahlstrom's hiring was legitimate, Sullivan wrote.

Dahlstrom, a Republican from Eagle River, voluntarily resigned from her new post after learning of Sullivan's legal memo, Parnell said. She didn't immediately return a message Friday.

"The governor's office and Ms. Dahlstrom have relied on the Department of Law's legal analysis," Sullivan wrote in the memo. "We are now changing our analysis. We apologize for this."

Sullivan said Friday that the department's earlier interpretation - that a legislator who resigns for a newly created post is eligible for that job - wasn't unreasonable. But he said there was "appreciable risk" a court might disagree with that view.

Speaking to reporters with Sullivan from Anchorage, Parnell said he didn't approach Dahlstrom about the job until around April 29, after the legislative session had ended and with an eye toward the June 1 filing deadline for legislative candidates.

The governor said he wasn't aware of any discussions between his staff and her staff during the legislative session, which he said would have been inappropriate.

Parnell said he wouldn't hire any legislators for newly created jobs until there was further clarification on the legal issue. He's asked the department to work on draft legislation that would provide that clarity.

The governor also said he wasn't sure if he'd hire someone else for the $96,000-a-year military adviser job.

He defended Dahlstrom as having been well suited to the position. Her district has a strong military presence and she was a familiar face at military events, he said.

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