Gov. Frank Murkowski named five commissioners to various departments in state government on Monday, but appointees are mum - at least for now - on speaking with the press, at the request of the administration.
John Manly, a Murkowski spokesman, said the administration would prefer that all media questions be run through the administration.
"We don't want the media to feel like they're shut out, but we feel it's more important for them to get into their offices and figure out what page they're on before speaking to the press," Manly said.
In addition to assigning Gregg Renkes - Murkowski's former chief of staff in Washington D.C. - as Alaska's new attorney general last month, the five new appointments put the administration near the halfway point in assigning heads for the state's 14 departments.
Manly said he expects the remaining commissioners' seats will be filled after Murkowski returns from a trip to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 19.
There is no deadline for making the appointments, he said. Applicants for the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Education are submitted by each entity's respective boards.
At the Monday press conference, Murkowski named commissioners and some deputy commissioners and directors for the departments of environmental conservation, health and social services, revenue, corrections and labor.
Ernesta Ballard of Ketchikan will serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Ballard, 56, was not at the Monday press conference and could not be reached for comment.
From 1983 to 1986 Ballard served as a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Reagan administration. As administrator for Region 10 - which includes Alaska, Idaho, Washington and Oregon - Ballard oversaw federal laws regulating air and water quality, wetland preservation, hazardous materials management, and hazardous waste cleanup.
"Ernesta brings a strong background in implementing environmental policy at EPA Region 10, where she gained the respect of her colleagues," Murkowski said in a prepared statement. "She is thus uniquely positioned to foster a new cooperation between the state and EPA, and to remove the unnecessary roadblocks between the agencies."
Ballard also served as chief executive officer for the Native corporation Cape Fox Corp. from 1989 to 1994. Ballard was appointed to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.
She also operates Ballard & Associates, a consulting firm out of Ketchikan.
As a consultant, Ballard has lobbied for the cruise ship industry and Ketchikan Pulp Co.
Randy Virgin, director for the Anchorage-based Alaska Center for the Environment, said the organization could not speculate on what Ballard would do as commissioner but added: "It concerns us that a person placed in the role of public steward has been looking out for the industry for much of her professional career."
Ballard's husband, Ed Fisher, a Ballard & Associates consultant, was appointed Monday to serve as deputy commissioner to newly appointed commissioner Greg O'Claray at the Department of Labor.
For 20 years O'Claray, 60, has served as director of legislative and governmental affairs for District 1 of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. The AFL-CIO affiliate represents engineers on Alaska ferries, Alaska trade oil tankers and other commercial vessels.
With O'Claray at the helm, Murkowski said the administration would make the department more responsive to Alaskans.
"Mr. O'Claray and I absolutely agree on what it will take to fix the Department of Labor," Murkowski said in a prepared statement. He did not, however, go into detail about deficiencies within the department. O'Claray could not be reached for comment.
Joel Gilbertson will head the Department of Health and Social Services. Gilbertson, 29, a recent graduate of George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., will replace Murkowski as the state's youngest-ever commissioner. In 1966, Murkowski became commissioner of economic development under Gov. Walter Hickel at the age of 32.
Gilbertson has served in Washington as legislative director and legislative counsel for Murkowski since 1999. There Gilbertson worked on issues such as Medicaid, children's health care, Social Security and welfare reform.
"You're young, you're energetic, you're innovative and I'm going to hold you responsible," Murkowski told Gilbertson on Monday.
Marc Antrim, 44, was appointed commissioner of the Department of Corrections on Monday.
Antrim, of Juneau, has worked within the department for 19 years, serving as a correctional officer and shift supervisor. In 2001, Antrim was promoted to lieutenant and given the task of supervising all administrative sergeants.
"He is an experienced, dedicated leader who has extensive line experience and who has the confidence and respect of the correctional officers who will serve under him," Murkowski said.
Murkowski also named Don Stolworthy as deputy commissioner, Mike Addington as director of institutions, and Portia Parker as head of policy development.
Murkowski also named Juneau resident Bill Corbus, 60, as commissioner of the Department of Revenue. Corbus is former president Alaska Electric Light and Power Co. in Juneau.
When asked at the Monday press conference his opinion of revenue forecasts released by the Department of Revenue at the end of November, Corbus declined comment.
"I'm so new to the job that I'm not going to express an opinion at this time. I need a couple of weeks," Corbus said.
"Yeah, give him a day or two, will you," Murkowski said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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