Parnell approves new education commissioner

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

Anchorage elementary school principal Michael Hanley has been named commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, replacing Larry LeDoux, who was ousted by Gov. Sean Parnell.

It may be several weeks before Hanley begins his job, department spokesman Eric Fry said.

Hanley is currently principal of Kincaid Elementary School, and wants to ensure a smooth transition for the school's new principal, Fry said.

Parnell praised Hanley's ability to be a strong education commissioner.

"Mike's experience and dedication to student engagement and achievement makes him a natural choice to lead Alaska's education system," Parnell said, in a press release announcing the appointment.

Under state law, the education commissioner position is unusual, as the commissioner works for the board, and not for the governor. Following Parnell's election in November, he demanded resignation letters from the state's commissioners, and replaced several with his own appointments.

LeDoux had been appointed by former Gov. Sarah Palin.

In the press release announcing the appointment, Parnell said he "approved" the appointment, but that it had been made by the board.

In an interview Wednesday, Parnell said the process followed state law.

"The board of education submitted the name of Mike Hanley for approval and I approved their appointment and that's the way it happened," Parnell said.

After Parnell accepted LeDoux' resignation, Fry said the board would likely advertise the position, select at least three finalists to interview, and select one to recommend to the governor.

Board chair Esther Cox of Anchorage said that process could take weeks to complete, and couldn't even begin at the board's Dec. 3 meeting because it was not on the agenda and public notice requirements could not be met.

Instead, Fry said the board considered Hanley at the request of Parnell at that same Dec. 3 meeting.

"The governor's office asked the state board to consider Michael Hanley," he said.

The board interviewed Hanley in executive session and then entered open session and unanimously voted to appoint him commissioner, Fry said. That information was then immediately conveyed to Parnell, who announced the appointment.

Fry said the appointment had not been on the meeting agenda, but the agenda had been amended at the meeting to include the topic.

He referred questions about whether that complied with the Alaska Public Meetings Law's notice requirements to Assistant Attorney general Rebecca Hattan, who attended the meeting.

A call to Hattan Thursday was returned by Department of Law spokesman Bill McAllister, who said the public meetings law did not bar adding agenda items and referred to Alaska statute 44.62.310 (e).

"Nothing in the law prevents the agenda from being amended," he said.

Alaska's courts have held the public must be notified before public bodies can act, but McAllister declined to explain the Attorney General's Office analysis which approved adding a commissioner appointment to an agenda.

"If you can read plain English you can see what the statute says," he said.

Parnell's asserting role in the appointment of the education commissioner is despite a state law saying that is the duty of the education board.

Parnell earlier ran afoul of another appointment law, when he tried to appoint two sitting legislators to newly created positions in his administration, despite a law prohibiting such appointments.

Those two legislators gave up their elective offices, and then had to soon resign from their administration positions.

"We followed 50 years of precedent, that was called into question," Parnell said Wednesday. Those former legislators may receive new positions, Parnell said. Legislators are eligible for such appointments after they have been out of office for a year, and Parnell said he'd make sure the law was followed.

"I will not do anything that can be called into question," he said.

Deputy Commissioner Les Morse is serving as acting commissioner until Hanley takes office.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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