Former mayor: Miller nearly fired from lawyer job

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2010

JUNEAU - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller almost lost his job as an attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough for using government computers in an unsuccessful bid to overthrow Alaska's GOP chairman in 2008, former Mayor Jim Whitaker said.

Whitaker told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that while Miller's actions violated an ethics policy, they didn't get him fired because Miller was needed for work on a pipeline lawsuit. Whitaker said he felt the need to speak up because he didn't think Miller was going to do so.

A Miller spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier, the campaign referred an Associated Press reporter, who had asked about allegations raised by the online Alaska Dispatch about Miller's borough employment, to a statement Miller made Monday saying he'd no longer answer questions about his past.

Whitaker's statement drew a sharp response from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom Miller defeated in the GOP primary and who is now running as a write-in candidate.

"If you're going to hold yourself out as a candidate ... then you need to let the people that you are seeking to represent, you need to let them know who you are," she told reporters in Anchorage after filing her candidacy papers Wednesday. "And who we are is what we have done in the past. And if there have been improper dealings with his prior employer, then the public has a right to know that."

On Monday, Miller told reporters he and his wife were probably the "most disclosed" couple in Alaska politics in recent history. He said he'd no longer answer questions about his past or background, saying they had become a distraction from issues like how best to get the country back on financial track.

Miller's comments followed what he called an illegal leak of his personnel file from the borough to reporters, although borough attorney Rene Broker said she had "no evidence" to substantiate the claim. Miller attorney Thomas Van Flein didn't immediately return a message. But in a letter to assistant borough attorney Jill Dolan, dated Monday and released to the AP Wednesday as part of a records request to the borough, he said Miller's camp had information that someone within the borough had been leaking information and "we will be subpoenaing witnesses to investigate this."

He calls on the borough to preserve all records pertaining to Miller and any employee who had access to his file.

"Any release of Mr. Miller's records by the Borough would constitute a violation of the law," he wrote, following the Dispatch's suing for access to Miller's records. He added: "It is the Borough's job to protect its employees and uphold the law. In our review of the statute we are not able to find any Borough policy or ordinance that alters the law when an employee runs for office."

Miller also called on reporters not to repeat nonspecific "lies" and "innuendo."

In recent weeks, Miller has had to respond to a series of disclosures about his past, including reports that he accepted federal farm subsidies in the 1990s, that his wife briefly obtained unemployment benefits, and that his family for a period received Medicaid - benefits he now rails against or believes would be better decided at the state level. He said his family struggled for a time, like a lot of other families have, but that he receives no benefits now and none of this has any relevance to the race.

Critics have called Miller, a states' rights advocate who favors limiting the powers of the federal government to those spelled out in the Constitution and ending the "welfare state," a hypocrite.

Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Miller's refusal to answer questions about his background a "suspect move."

"If anything," she said in a news release, "Miller's silence raises more questions about his candidacy and leaves Alaskans wondering what else he is hiding from them."

Whitaker told the News-Miner his information came from his chief of staff and the borough attorney and human resources director. He didn't immediately return messages from The Associated Press.

Personnel documents released by the borough and Miller's campaign before the primary included a list of documents that were withheld for reasons such as privacy, privilege or because they were considered to contain confidential personnel information.

Those included "web activity" reports and statements from four unidentified employees from March 2008, for the period leading to the state GOP convention in which there was a failed attempt to oust Randy Ruedrich as chairman.

Broker, the borough attorney, confirmed there had been an investigation of some sort but declined further comment. She said the borough holds that the records are not public, and even if Miller were to sign a release, the borough doesn't release the names of employees that participate in investigations.

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