Alaska GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich left his position on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission with a bang, proposing that the state eliminate the position of a regulator who called for his removal.
Sarah Palin, ethics supervisor and chairman of the commission, along with other prominent Republicans had called on Ruedrich to resign as one of three commissioners. They cited a conflict of interest in his roles as GOP chairman and an oil and gas regulator.
But one day before Ruedrich resigned, on Nov. 8, he sent a proposal to Gov. Frank Murkowski's chief of staff, Jim Clark, calling for the elimination of all three commissioners' positions.
The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is a quasi-judicial agency that resolves oil and gas disputes between owners, including the state.
Remaining commissioners Palin and Dan Seamount said they were not made aware of the proposal until speaking with Clark the weekend of Nov. 8-9. Palin and Seamount received a copy of the plan on Friday, Nov. 14, after a week of unanswered requests from the administration.
"I want to see it," Palin said Friday before receiving the plan. "I would like the technical staff members who have been here a lot longer than Randy and I have been here to see it."
Palin said she talked with Clark by phone on Nov. 8, and was told the administration was "ready to implement the plan." That was when Clark realized that neither Palin nor Seamount had been told about the proposal.
"She set me straight and that was that," Clark said.
Palin said she has supported eliminating or reducing the salaries of the commissioners' positions, but argued that before a plan was sent to the governor it should have been approved by her and Seamount. Commissioners are paid $118,000 a year and the chairman's position pays $122,400.
"It's embarrassing how much this commission pays," Palin said. "There are a lot of Alaskans that would be pleased to serve in this capacity for a lot less pay. I agree with that part of the plan. I don't agree with the submittal of a plan when the public perception is that it could be based on politics."
Ruedrich did not return calls to the Empire. Palin said Ruedrich has not returned her phone calls either.
The proposal, according to Clark, is based on a 1999 study by the Commission on Privatization and Delivery of Government Services, which Ruedrich served on.
The proposal would replace the three full-time commissioners with a full-time director that would oversee a board of five volunteer commissioners.
It also would move the commission from the Department of Administration to the Department of Community and Economic Development and eliminate one inspector position, three support personnel positions and two administrative services positions.
Ruedrich projects that implementation of the plan would save the state about $450,000 in the first year and about $630,000 in future years.
Clark said the governor has not decided whether to adopt the plan.
Clark noted that every section of state government is undergoing a "missions and measures" review to determine where cuts can be made to reduce the fiscal year 2005 budget.
"We have to have a budget ready by Dec. 15," Clark said. "We are trying to make sure that we downsize government and that we make sure we align the personnel and money to achieve the governor's policies at the least possible cost. AOGCC is going to have to go through the same departmental scrutiny as everyone else."
Palin said she believes that one director overseeing a volunteer board could easily perform the duties of all three commissioners and recommended that Seamount serve as director if the plan is adopted.
"I just see that there is a better way to implement the changes that should take place at this agency," she said. "I want the public to trust this agency. I want the public to be assured that the credibility of this staff is above reproach."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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