JUNEAU - A second top adviser to Gov. Sean Parnell has resigned amid questions about the legality of their hires.
Gene Therriault, in a resignation letter dated Wednesday, said the "political turmoil" generated by Parnell detractors over his hiring last year has become a distraction and potential detriment to the governor. Parnell, who took over when Sarah Palin resigned as governor, is seeking election this year.
"While I believe any judicial review of the circumstances surrounding my hire will be decided in favor of the administrative action we took in good faith, the debate over this issue should not divert Alaskans' attention from the important matters we have been working on," Therriault wrote.
His resignation is to take effect Aug. 2. A Parnell spokeswoman said the governor did not ask Therriault to step down.
Therriault resigned from the Legislature last year to take the $109,000-per-year job as an energy adviser to Parnell, who took office last summer. But his hiring drew renewed scrutiny earlier this month, when Attorney General Dan Sullivan acknowledged shortcomings in the legal analysis and advice his department gave Parnell on hiring another former lawmaker, Nancy Dahlstrom, for a newly created position as military affairs adviser.
Lawmakers aren't allowed to take certain positions created while they were in office for at least a year. While Dahlstrom and Therriault resigned their legislative seats, questions swirled about the timing of the job offers and whether they were in line with the constitution and state law.
Public records obtained and released by activist Andree McLeod included personnel papers signed by Parnell's administrative director, Linda Perez, on Sept. 1, 2009, and by Therriault 11 days later, stating he was "being appointed" to a new position, effective Sept. 14, 2009. Therriault had announced in August 2009 that he was resigning his legislative seat.
An e-mail released by McLeod also showed Therriault's official separation from the Legislature was Sept. 13, 2009. She said this helped show the hire wasn't allowed under the constitution.
The Parnell administration has maintained the office wasn't created until after Therriault left the Legislature.
In a legal memo related to the Dahlstrom hire, dated July 1, Sullivan wrote that the Alaska Supreme Court has found the state constitution's "ineligibility clause" is meant to keep lawmakers from creating jobs in hopes of securing them. But, "The crux of the issue centers on when an executive branch position is 'created' for purposes of the ineligibility clause," he wrote. "Alaska courts have not directly addressed that question."
While Sullivan said he believed his department's advice - that a legislator who resigns for a newly created executive branch post is eligible for that job - wasn't unreasonable, and that the governor acted in good faith in relying on it, he said there was also "appreciable risk" a court might disagree with the department's conclusion.
Dahlstrom resigned her new job. There was public pressure for Therriault to do the same: the Anchorage Daily News this week, for example, published an editorial saying he should resign.
Parnell has stood behind Therriault and his decision to hire him in spite of the concerns and even as it became political fodder leading to next month's GOP primary. He reiterated that position in his brief statement Thursday, in which he also praised Therriault, whose qualifications - like those of Dahlstrom - weren't questioned amid the hiring debate.
"Gene Therriault has served Alaska with a considerate and professional hand, and he has been a valuable member of my staff," Parnell said.
In an interview last week, he told The Associated Press he acted in good faith and was standing on legal precedent and practice.
According to Parnell's spokeswoman, Therriault helped Parnell "track and direct the various energy related efforts" under way, including the gas line projects.
Replacements have not been named for either Dahlstrom or Therriault.
Two of Parnell's GOP gubernatorial rivals weighed in Thursday. Bill Walker questioned Parnell's leadership and said the governor has shown "a complete lack of remorse or regret." Ralph Samuels said the hiring constituted an "abuse of power" and it was "regrettable that it took political pressure and potential damage to his (Parnell's) election campaign for anything to happen."