Commentary

Reporting 101/Updated

Alaska Dispatch News Ben Anderson editor has now pointed out that the organization back in September posted copies of the contracts Gov. Bill Walker signed with Art Hackney and Jack Ferguson when they undertook the task of selling his fiscal plan. Thanks to Mr. Anderson. Why those links were provided in the story suggesting Hackney violated the contract is unclear. It is interesting to note that the contract signed by Hackney is even more vague than the one signed by Ferguson and both are pretty vague. The contracts answers some questions and raise new ones. There’s plenty of work left that reporters need to do:

1.) Ask for the invoices of Ferguson, lobbyist #1, to go along with the invoices of Hackney, lobbyist #2. The public appears to have been having an interesting time trying to determine whether the $200-per-hour meetings for which Hackney billed the state were worth it. Shouldn’t Alaskans get to have the same fun with Ferguson’s invoiced meetings?

2.) Ask someone in the governor’s office why the contracts fail to stipulate how “billable hours” are calculated? Hours can be measured in all sorts of increments: 6-minute, 15-minute, 30-minute, even hour. Hackney’s invoices appear to indicate he was billing in 15-minute increments, but there is no requirement he do so. He could have billed by the half-hour or more.

3.) Ask the governor’s office how Hackney’s lobbying, and not Ferguson’s, became the subject of a “review” as first reported by KTUU.com. Is Ferguson’s contract also being reviewed? If not, why not? A copy of Ferguson’s contract can be found with this link. A copy of Hackney’s can be found with this link. The “Scope of Services” sections of both contracts are vague, but Hackney’s even more so than Ferguson’s. It says Hackney was supposed to engage in “meetings with legislators, business leaders, and the public to advance the proposed plan.” “Advance the proposed plan” means what? It could mean anything. If Hackney meets with Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff and says only that “you really should get behind the governor’s fiscal plan,” he’s advancing the plan. Hell, if stops a panhandler at the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and the Seward Highway and says the same thing he’s met the standard of contacting the “public to advance the proposed plan.” So then the pertinent question becomes this: What exactly is it the governor’s office is looking into?  KTUU.com reported “the state is reviewing bills submitted by a political consultant who charged the state for a meeting with the publisher of Alaska’s largest newspaper, after the publisher said the pair did not discuss the governor’s fiscal plan in detail.” So the governor is investigating Hackney because the publisher of the state’s largest newspaper and a friend of the governor is unhappy with the detail in a discussion she had with Hackney? And now she’s amping up her own investigation into this?  ADN.com followed the KTUU story by reporting the state was “scrutinizing payments”  for “possible phantom meetings.” One of the “possible phantom meetings” the story cites is listed in Hackney’s invoice as “Meet with Black Rock Grp.” The story quotes Mike Dubke of Black Rock saying, “I don’t recall having a meeting with Art at all.” Is it possible someone else at Black Rock talked to Hackney. Dubke isn’t the only the Black Rock member who has been involved in Alaska politics. Senior vice-president Christopher Maloney, as the ADN itself noted in a December story citing a Twitter spat between the company and a state labor activist, has also been involved. Is it possible Hackney talked to Maloney or someone else at Black Rock? Someone should also ask whether the Alaska Department of Law or the Alaska State Troopers are investigating. The contract boilerplate in Hackney’s contract makes it clear the contractor is to abide by all laws. It is illegal to bill people for phantom services, and ADN story would leave most readers thinking something illegal might have happened. So is this being investigated as a legal matter or a billing oversight?

4.) Hackney’s contract says he was getting “reasonable travel and miscellaneous expenses?” Where are the expenses detailed and how much were those costs? The same for Ferguson who was getting “an estimated $1,500 per month for reasonable travel and miscellaneous expenses.” Someone should be asking for copies of the expense reports. Who knows, we might find the lunches Ferguson was sometimes seen enjoying with Rogoff were paid for by the state. Now wouldn’t that be special?

5.) Someone in the governor’s office should be asked to explain how exactly Ferguson and Hackney were picked for these jobs. It doesn’t appear the contracts were put to bid. So the governor’s office signed sole-source contracts with Ferguson and Hackney to do exactly what and why? Hiring Hackney to do what he told KTUU he was hired to do — “get that raw unfiltered sense of where those misperceptions lie” —  makes some sense; Hackney has been rubbing shoulders for a long time with Alaska elected officials and those who’d like to get elected. The situation is less clear in the case of Ferguson, who spent most of his life as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist. Some who’ve seen him working the halls of the Capital in Juneau said he doesn’t even appear to know all the players in the Legislature.

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Categories: Commentary, News, Politics

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