Brennan: A few worries about Dunleavy team

By Tom Brennan

Some of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Public Safety appointments are getting a mixed response from experienced people in the various fields.

Two that have old-timers worried are the appointment of Nancy Dahlstrom as Corrections commissioner and Amanda Price as commissioner of Public Safety. Dahlstrom has 15 years in the Alaska House of Representatives and Price is one of Dunleavy’s campaign team members and former director of the victim’s advocacy group Standing Together Against Rape.

Neither has any experience in the areas they will be managing and Price will be the first Public Safety commissioner since statehood to have no law enforcement experience.

My column last week commending Dunleavy’s adoption of the team approach came in for some criticism. One correspondent said the team approach — in which multiple agencies work together to resolve common problems — works well in disasters like earthquakes, but can be problematic when departments should be focusing on their own missions.

Multiple problems could come from having the budget directors in each department reporting to the Office of Budget Management, which will be headed by Donna Arduin, a newcomer to Alaska who is president of a national economic consulting firm and previously worked for Republican governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

Arduin’s credentials and experience show promise for her stint at Alaska’s OMB. Hopefully she will improve the effectiveness of the various state agencies without causing the problems my source is worried about. Since she has the job the best thing might be just to keep our fingers crossed.

In his announcement, Dunleavy said of her: “Donna is a budget fixer, and has a proven track record of digging in to complex fiscal systems and making effective recommendations for large-scale change.”

One of the real challenges for budget-drafters in all departments will be to eliminate duplication which often creeps into state agency spending plans. A good example of that is the decision by Dahlstrom to eliminate the special investigative unit formed by the Alaska Department of Corrections after a series of deaths in Alaska prisons.

While it’s understandable that corrections officers might want to handle such detective work themselves, that capability is expensive and duplicates the work of Alaska State Troopers who have extensive training and experience in such investigations. It makes far more sense to call in such experts than it does to try to duplicate the capability within smaller agencies.

The same goes for special weapons and tactics teams that some local police departments have been developing. That is a gross inefficiency and waste of money. It makes no sense to spend hard-to-come-by budget money for such teams in local departments when the Alaska State Troopers have a first-rate group it calls the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). That bunch is ready and able to respond when problems strike.

You could say the same about the FBI and its SWAT team, which  duplicates the State Trooper SERT group. That is federal money vs. state money, but the FBI has the same ability to call in Troopers when they are needed.

Over all, Mike Dunleavy is getting his team off to a promising start, despite the worries. It will be difficult to deliver on all the promises he has made but he can do it if anybody can.

Knock on wood.

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