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Legislative Affairs settles case with security guard

Agency agrees to revise policy on confidentiality

Posted: Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Capitol security guard fired in February for writing a letter critical of lawmakers who drink in the building accepted a $10,000 settlement from his former employers on Tuesday, attorneys say.

Former security guard Dan Bussard consented to not sue the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency in exchange for a monetary settlement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which represented Bussard.

Bussard threatened to sue the agency for wrongful termination, but a lawsuit was never filed, said Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the Alaska ACLU.

Efforts to reach Bussard for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The agency had said when Bussard was fired that his letter, published in the Juneau Empire, violated a confidentiality provision of his employment agreement.

Macleod-Ball said the issue was about whether the agency's policy restricting employees from speaking to the press on certain matters violated First Amendment rights.

"By their nature, confidentiality agreements restrict freedom of speech," he said. Nonetheless, Macleod-Ball said, confidentiality agreements are needed to prevent employees revealing secrets told in an executive session, for example.

The agency's lawyer, Pam Finley, said the agency still maintains that Bussard violated a confidentiality agreement, but it was cheaper for the state to settle the case instead of going to court.

"I think we would have won," Finley said.

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing, Macleod-Ball said.

Bussard's employment record will no longer say he was involuntarily dismissed, according to the ACLU.

In his letter to the editor, Bussard said that while other state buildings have a no-alcohol policy, the Capitol is alone in permitting drinking.

"On any given afternoon, it is not hard to find several people in different offices sitting around having a drink," the letter said.

The Legislature makes its own rules for the Capitol. At the time of the controversy, lawmakers said that drinking does occur in the building, though not as much as Bussard suggested.

Bussard ended the letter with a call for a bill that bans alcohol and consumption of alcohol from all state buildings.

Finley said it was also against the agency's policy for employees to lobby for legislation. She added Bussard was fired for other reasons related to his job performance.

The state also agreed to review the confidentiality provisions of its employment contracts and to give the ACLU the opportunity to offer comments on proposed reforms.

Macleod-Ball said the ACLU will advise the agency to write a new policy that says people will not be fired for expressing an opinion.

The agreement obligates the agency to notify the ACLU when changes to the policy are made, and the ACLU has a week to offer comments. The organization also will be provided with a copy of the final policy.

Finley said the revision will give more guidance to those supervising security guards in the future.

Of the $10,000 settlement, $3,500 is for lost wages and $6,500 is for non-economic damages. In addition to the settlement, the Legislature will pay another $2,500 to the ACLU for legal fees.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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