News from Patrick Flynn

Defining “independent”

Returning to the saga wherein many question what happened during the last couple months of the Begich administration, we left our Assembly heroes steadily working on an ordinance aimed at strengthening financial reporting requirements such that any similar miscommunication wouldn’t recur.  And yet, it hasn’t been that simple.

First off, Sullivan administration officials have approached this endeavor with a remarkable lack of urgency.  To their credit several did manage to attend a work session on January 15, after failing to provide feedback for several weeks, wherein the Assembly learned they have many concerns that need to be addressed.  So we’re working on that, hopefully with their help, finally.

Meanwhile, three of my Assembly colleagues have prepared a resolution calling for an “independent audit” of municipal financial activity in the waning months of 2008.  I know it’s true, because I read it in the news!  Independent is an almost magical word in political circles but what, really, does it mean?  Let’s look at some recent history for a little perspective:

  • During the middle of 2009 two of the aforementioned three Assembly members procured an independent legal review, authored by Joseph Levesque, looking at the process leading to the approval of collective bargaining agreements.  That independent review, which based its conclusions on an irrelevant section of municipal code, deemed two contracts invalid.  That conclusion was immediately contested by a union whose contract was not questioned and, ultimately, rejected by the municipal attorney.  That, of course, leads us to:
  • The now-infamous Wheeler report, which I voted to procure, that dismissed the Levesque report’s conclusions but raised other questions about the Begich administration’s financial conduct and called for both further review (enthusiastically endorsed by some) and changes to the law (as indicated above, all but ignored by the same some).  During that process:
  • Sullivan administration officials spent a few thousand bucks to obtain an independent revenue forecast, ostensibly to bolster the administration’s case for very conservative revenue projections but, somehow, morphed into yet another shot at the Begich administration.  (I’ll pause for a moment to tip my hat to those able to successfully predict an unprecedented economic downturn almost a year after it occurred.)  Moving forward:
  • An addendum to the Wheeler Report further documents perceived misdeeds, notes that alleged miscreants involved in this alleged malfeasance have not publicly disproved the allegations (probably because their lawyers told them to keep quiet, but what do I know?), and again calls for more independent investigation, which:
  • Brings us to today.

One of the three Assembly members calling for yet another “independent” review was recently quoted saying, “It’s pretty clear that for the last couple years of that administration, they were robbing Peter to pay Paul and they weren’t being straightforward with the Assembly.”  Another of my colleagues sends me e-mails with the subject line, “Begich misdeeds.”  (Interesting aside here, that same colleague has now asked at least three Assembly chairs, including myself and one of the three calling for latest review, for subpoena authority.  None of us granted it but I did research the topic and learned an Assembly chair can’t grant said authority.  But I digress…)  Others, who approach this matter from a different political perspective, refer to this latest development as, “good political hatchet work,” and posit that, “an audit isn’t going to prove anything.”  In each of these cases it appears conclusions have been made and whatever facts are unearthed will either be highlighted or ignored in order to bolster the case made by a particular viewpoint.

Given all the circumstances surrounding that holy term, independence, allow me to offer a humble observation – no one and nothing about this matter is truly independent.  If the Assembly decides to authorize and pay for an “independent” review of 2008 municipal finances said auditor can’t possibly hope to achieve real independence.  Let’s take the aforementioned independent revenue forecast as an example, which didn’t dispute administration predictions of a drastic drop in tobacco tax revenue.  During a Budget & Finance committee meeting Cheryl Frasca, the administration’s OMB director, allowed that the 2010 number was likely too low but the Northern Economics review was silent on the issue.  That’s not necessarily an indictment of Northern Economics – perhaps they were focused on other revenue streams, were never provided with historical tobacco tax revenue numbers (which were consistently higher than administration projections), or maybe that wasn’t part of their review (the Assembly wasn’t privy to that procurement).

The point is this, any review will be colored by the information provided.  Because the Wheeler report has essentially charged former Begich administration officials with criminal behavior they are unlikely to provide any perspective or background that might flesh out the inquiry.  That means an auditor will be largely dependent on information provided by the Sullivan administration which, fairly or not, is hardly considered independent.  So where are we?

2010, meaning now-Senator Begich has three or four years to prepare for the inevitable assault on his municipal record that will accompany any challenger’s campaign for his current seat.  Also meaning that, no matter what the Assembly does, a “cover-up” drumbeat will be continued at least through April’s municipal elections (if you don’t believe me, I’ll happily share a few e-mails from folks sure that the Wheeler report had been sequestered, despite the fact it’s been posted on the Assembly’s web site for months).

In any event I’m looking forward to some delightful political theater this coming Tuesday.  Hope you enjoy the show!



This contribution was made on Friday, 29. January 2010 at 14:57 and was published under the category Fiscal matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. This post is full of all kinds of intrigue and innuendo but it seems to lack the objectivity that would make it useful to regular citizens who aren’t privy to who on the assembly are “heros” and who are just unidentified slobs you (apparently) disagree with.

    Instead of trying to be clever, why don’t you just name who you are talking about? These are public officials, and if they are taking actions you don’t agree with then why don’t you just name them, and explain your differences? By doing all this cutesy writing you confuse your readers while appearing to be some kind of elitist, “but I digress.”

    For instance: On the one hand you say the Sullivan Administration showed “a remarkable lack of urgency” but “to their credit” they attended a meeting. Is this sarcasm, or just disjointed reporting? Is this likely to cause Mayor Sullivan to try to better accommodate you because of your superior position, or is it going to cause him to be dismissive?

    So you disagree with the three colleagues’ proposal for another independent audit because you say no audit could now be independent; I get that. And, you have done the research to establish that the Assembly cannot give supoena powers, so any colleague asking to do that is a fool; I get that, too. What I don’t get is: When are you and all the other Assembly “heros” going to call for criminal prosecution of Begich, since you know that he misled the Assembly and the people of Anchorage?

    That would be the best way to counter any allegations of covering up these facts!

    Comment: Anonymous – 30. January 2010 @ 8:42 am

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy my writing style but please allow me to address some of your concerns.

    First, please note the hyperlinks within the post that provide more information, including the sources of many of the quotes in which you display an interest.

    Second, regarding Sullivan administration officials’ efforts regarding new legislation, you might note the clause wherein I note they declined to offer feedback for several weeks.

    Third, as to criminal prosecution, in a previous blog post I suggested this matter be referred to a prosecuting authority almost a month ago.

    Finally, I used the term “heroes” in jest, an allusion to the cartoons I watched as a kid wherein the narrator intones something like, “When last seen, our heroes were in the clutches of the evil (insert favorite villain here). Will they escape? Let’s find out…” Assembly members aren’t really heroes, just folks who are crazy, dumb, and/or idealistic (or some such adjective) enough to seek the job.

    Thanks again for taking a look, and please let me know if there are other areas of interest to you that I might address.



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 30. January 2010 @ 9:56 am

  3. Tuesday’s meeting will be fascinating. Regardless what happens, my response and discussion of Internal Audit Report #97-16 will FINALLY be in the mail later this week.

    Comment: Kurt Sorensen – 31. January 2010 @ 11:17 pm

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