Employee Resignation Request Wrong, Offensive, Likely Unconstitutional (But I’d recommend Employees Protect Their Careers By Re-Applying)
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
I, like many of you, was unhappy to hear of the memo from the Governor-Elect’s Chief of Staff asking for hundreds of resignations of employees who are not political appointees, and whose personal politics are irrelevant to their work. I’ve posted about this, and want you to know how serious I consider the new Chief of Staff’s “straight out of the chute” offensive “misstep.” Elections aren’t war, where all the spoils go to the winner. If you think like that, you should get out of politics. Politics is something you do for the public, not to advance your textbook ideologies.
I want to write about the “little” matter of the Alaska Constitution’s “merit principle” of employment, which this resignation demand likely violates. What makes things worse and more alarming to employees and their families is that this resignation call came from a person who’s most recent job was Chairman of the new Governor’s political party. Recent Republican party Chair Tuckerman Babcock, who just came off a cycle of campaigning for his party’s candidates, and aggressively against Republican candidates within his party he didn’t think were loyal enough, is a political partisan (yes there are partisans in all parties). That is making employees with families to support and bills to pay nervous.
Our state government should never judge the vast majority of state employees, who are not political appointees, based on their personal political views. In 1956 the Framers of what many view as a Model Alaska Constitution, debated and added a provision requiring employees be hired based on “merit” and not political allegiance. If Babcock’s goal is to fire or hire people based on their political allegiances, donations, volunteer work or views (he hasn’t expressly said this, but his press statements certainly hint at it), then I’d hope he will read the Constitution this and reconsider. I hope he would not want his first act in Government to be the undermine the Constitution his job will be to uphold.
Before you get riled into giving up your jobs as a “political stand” though, let’s take a calmer step back. This whole thing may be more bark than bite. While I think the whole approach is wrong, offensive, damages already-damaged employee morale (something a manager with strong management experience would never do), and likely unconstitutional, I would hope that you would do everything you can to keep your jobs if you still want to continue in them, including re-applying as thousands of you have been told you have to. I know this is offensive, but rallying you to give up your jobs for uncertain, potentially unwinnable lawsuits isn’t responsible. My job isn’t to “hothead” you out of your job. This shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. It’s advice I’d give as a friend, not as a lawyer (I haven’t practiced since 2000). It’s meant to be what I feel is practical. But if you are looking for legal advice, then you should look for a well-respected employment attorney who will be honest about the potential pitfalls and difficulties of, and true chances of winning, cases in Alaska. They can explain your legal rights, and the potential plusses and pitfalls in Alaska employment cases, expense, and how long a case takes to resolve (often years) better than I am allowed to do.
I’ll only say that if I personally had a job I wanted to keep, I would re-apply as has been requested. I’d be angry. I’d be suspicious of Tuckerman Babcock. But I’d re-apply as the hint has also been pretty strong that if you don’t you will lose your job.
Now, on Mr. Babcock’s offensive conduct. He should honestly come out and clarify whether he plans on firing people for their political views (it’s effectively a firing to tell someone they have to resign, and then not re-hire them).
Governor-elect Dunleavy should, in light of Mr. Babcock’s actions and statements, make clear that people will not lose their jobs because of their political views.
If you find out folks in the incoming Administration are researching employee political activity I’d like to know, because the Constitution explicitly forbids that when it comes to non-political appointees. I, too, have sworn to uphold the Constitution.
Here is what the Constitution says.
Article 12, Section 6 of the Alaska Constitution states as follows:
“Merit System – The Legislature shall establish a system under which the merit principle will government the employment of persons by the state.”
The debate by our Constitutional Framers in Fairbanks in 1956 explains (in 1956 Man language :) why this provision was added. Delegate Frank Barr sated in successfully supporting this provision:
“We do want a merit system whereby a man’s position is secure if he is efficient and does his work, and that will provide the state with experienced employees. It isn’t a complete change of employees every time a new Governor gets in.”
Delegate George McGlaughlin said:
“The merit principle, in substance, merely determines that political considerations will not be the determinant for the selection, and all we are doing is repudiating the idea of the spoils system.”
Proceedings of the State of Alaska Constitutional Convention, pages 2890-91.
I can only let you know how I feel and how I would act. I respect employees who come to work, do their jobs well, and keep this state running, whether you are prosecutors, or work on natural resource, education, senior, disability, substance abuse treatment, child abuse or other issues. Thousands of you do that. And you have lives to lead and bills to pay.
Your morale has been unfairly harmed by years of insecurity, layoffs and job cuts, and a budget deficit too many people don’t have the guts to fix honestly with needed revenue (including fairly from the wealthiest and biggest corporations). Just threatening and firing people is only going to hurt this state, and hurt the economy as we have fewer skilled people in jobs, and then fewer wages to support our businesses and housing market. The spinoff will be thousands of people who leave this state, and a new generation that may leave because they see no future in the state they love.
Finally, if people do file litigation, Mr. Babcock’s conduct might recklessly end up costing a state millions at a time of major deficits. I’d rather state funds go into public services to protect communities, students, seniors, children and those living with disabilities.
So, I’d wish the new Administration well. And I’d advise them that running this state based on textbook political ideology (which rarely works in practice) will harm us all, cost us jobs, and be a legacy no one wants.
As always, let us know if we can help, or if you have any questions.
Rep. Les Gara