Alaska Editorials

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Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Oct. 4, 2014

Ketchikan Daily News: Yes to prayer

Let's pray.

If it helps the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, then by all means open meetings with an invocation.

It should be the majority of the Assembly's choice. It's how it works. The majority rules.

And just like with any other issue before the Assembly, sometimes members are in the majority and sometimes not. If not, then they go with the will of the majority. It doesn't mean they agree with it, but that's the way it is in the United States, which includes Ketchikan and Alaska.

It might be a Christian prayer today. It might be a prayer of another faith in years to come. Or, it might return to no prayer at all — at least not a public prayer as part of the meeting.

In addition to public prayer, Christians and others often pray quietly and to themselves regularly before, during and after meetings. It's the way Christians work. Perhaps others, too.

Assembly members Glen Thompson and Agnes Moran propose that the Assembly begin meetings with an invocation by a member of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association. But other clergy and atheists would be welcome to pray or offer a moment of silence at a meeting, too, according to Moran.

Thompson and Moran asked the KMA whether it would be willing to participate in the meetings.

Thompson recommends it as a way for the Assembly to remember the nation's roots in Judeo-Christian values.

Prayer at public meetings is a practice in at least 11 other local governments in Alaska. Both congressional chambers have chaplains and begin daily business with prayers. Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it is constitutional for governments to continue with or adopt the practice.

Nothing prevents members of the public from offering a prayer or moment of silence at an Assembly meeting, either. The Assembly doesn't restrict topics during public comments, although it might limit the amount of time to speak in the interest of allowing all interested parties to express and time to complete its business.

The public might even comment on the idea of a prayer at the meetings before the Assembly votes on the matter. It's the way it works during the comment period.

But, when it comes to the final decision, it is the members of the Assembly who make it. They, as the people's representatives, decide how their meetings will be conducted within the law and based on the values in their lives.

For some, that involves prayer.

Oct. 3, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Governor's denial of information request thwarts public's right to know

Problems with harassment, sexual assault, fraud and other issues within the Alaska National Guard are serious business. The scathing report from the National Guard Bureau, the removal of Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre and additional promised shakeups in Guard leadership illustrate the gravity of the issues facing one of the state's prominent institutions. So it's difficult to understand Gov. Parnell's reticence in making public documents that would enhance the public's understanding of what took place to warrant these actions and help ensure such missteps aren't made in the future.

In May, the Alaska Public Radio Network made a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between the governor's office, Gen. Katkus and Mr. Pierre related to the reports of problems in the Guard. The guidelines for FOIA requests state that agencies have 10 days to respond, with an additional 10 if more time is required to fulfill them. With the APRN request, the governor's office took 86 days before notifying the network it was rejecting their petition for information entirely.

It's not as though the request slipped through the cracks. During the course of those three months, APRN said it made more than two dozen phone calls to the governor's office seeking a response, many of which were unreturned. When APRN finally received the rejection on Sept. 26, the governor's policy director Randy Ruaro said the communications, some of which came from Guard chaplains blowing the whistle on chain-of-command abuses, fell under the privilege between clergy members and their parishioners. Furthermore, Mr. Ruaro cited potential harm if victims' identities became known.

Concern for the disclosure of victims' identities is well-intentioned, but misguided for two reasons: first, some of the victims of abuses in the Guard have already voluntarily come forward to tell their stories to the media. Second, even if identities of victims were not already known, broadcast and print media in Alaska do not disclose the names of victims of sexual assault or abuse. State officials are well aware of that practice.

With regard to Mr. Ruaro's rationale that communications with clergy are privileged, that argument would hold water if the communications in question were between Guard members and their chaplains. But the request was for emails between the governor's office, Gen. Katkus and Mr. Pierre. The chaplains were a third party, and the disclosures they made to state officials would already obviate whatever privilege could be asserted over communications made between those officials after the fact.

The seriousness of the misconduct within the Guard and the tardiness with which the state has addressed it make it all the more important that in responding to the issues, the state is as forthright and transparent as possible. The people deserve a full picture of where mistakes were made in the chain of command, and the information requested by APRN is necessary to that goal. The governor's office was wrong to block access to it, and the denial doesn't inspire confidence in the administration's willingness to fully address the issues.

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