Out of Bounds
Three Delta Junction area residents complained that the Local Boundary Commission did not comply with regulatory requirements when it approved a vote on creating the Deltana Borough in the area surrounding Delta Junction in 2007. The complainants alleged the LBC arbitrarily decided that the area, with one second class city and two small closed communities, met regulatory requirements that the area population be “interrelated and integrated with respect to social, cultural and economic characteristics and activities.” The LBC issued the ruling despite receiving multiple comments challenging the proposal. The LBC did not provide specifics on what led to its ruling, which the ombudsman found to be arbitrary.
The ombudsman also found that the LBC did not notify residents about LBC action in “plain English,” which kept many residents from participating knowledgeably in the LBC process. Finally, the ombudsman also found that the LBC did not deal with the Native Village of Healy Lake on a government-to-government basis as called for in the 2001 Millennium Agreement.
OCS Blows School
A parent complained to the ombudsman that an OCS caseworker interviewed his children at school without a school official present, as is required by law under most circumstances.
The ombudsman found that the caseworker failed to follow the statutes in this instance. Further, the ombudsman found that OCS had failed to provide adequate guidance and training for its caseworkers regarding in-school interviews. The agency accepted most of the ombudsman’s recommendations, and the ombudsman closed the investigation as justified and rectified.
Parent Questions Child Support;
All in Order
The ombudsman looked at a dispute between a non-custodial parent and the Child Support Services Division and found that all was in order—literally. The complainant alleged that CSSD was basing her support obligation on a faulty order that had been corrected by the courts, and she demanded that CSSD return her overpayments to her.
Investigation revealed that the child support order in question was issued by the court in 1997. The court vacated the order in 2007 and replaced it with a new child support order that covered the same timeframe as the previous order but significantly lowered the monthly child support obligation. This resulted in an overpayment to the custodial parent in this case. The ombudsman determined that the
1997 child support order was a valid order for the period it was in effect and the enforcement actions taken by CSSD to collect and distribute payments during that time were appropriate and in accordance with the law. Further, CSSD policy provides that the agency will not assist non-custodial parents in recovering overpayments if the overpayments were not a result of agency error. The ombudsman found that CSSD’s policy was reasonable.
An inmate complained that a THC test provided him by the Department of Corrections tested for smaller amounts of the drug than is authorized under DOC policy.
The inmate had tested positive for THC, the main psychoactive substance found in the cannabis plant, in a test given at the prison using a field test kit. He requested a retest by an independent testing laboratory, as is his right.
The laboratory retested the sample, which also came back positive. The inmate protested that the laboratory tested at a threshold of 20 nanograms per milliliter, whereas DOC policy sets a threshold of 50 nanograms.
The ombudsman learned that although the retest threshold was 20 nanograms, the inmate’s sample showed THC at a level of 53 nanograms. The ombudsman found that the inmate was justly disciplined for drug use, but recommended that, in the future, DOC instruct testing laboratories to test THC at a threshold of 50 nanograms per milliliter to avoid confusion.
Murder Victim’s Ring
An inmate complained that Department of Corrections officials had removed a woman’s ring from his property storage and disposed of it without his permission.
The ring was taken from the inmate when he was booked into the prison. Estate representatives showed evidence that the ring actually belonged to the estate they administered—the estate of a woman the inmate was charged with, and later convicted of, murdering.
The ombudsman found the complaint without merit.
A complaint alleging misdeeds by an employee of the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) developed into an investigation of the way OCS was attempting to secure and account for food vouchers for clients.
A citizen complained to the ombudsman and to OCS that an OCS employee was releasing confidential information, using a state computer to send sexually explicit emails, and stealing food vouchers. The ombudsman saw that OCS conducted an investigation of the allegations and dismissed the employee involved.
OCS was unable, however, to track the allegedly stolen vouchers because its accounting documents had been destroyed. The agency made several changes in the way it secured and accounted for the vouchers, but the ombudsman found these changes insufficient. OCS agreed to make further improvements recommended by the ombudsman.
Three out-of-state commercial fishermen were wrongly denied grants to improve their fishing vessels by the Alaska Office of Economic Development, the ombudsman found.
Although non-residents, the men fished commercially in Alaska and lived in Alaska for several months each year. The scoring system adopted by OED failed to consider that their activities contributed to the economy of the communities where they fished. The scoring system used by the agency effectively barred non-resident fishermen from the grant program.
The ombudsman found that OED’s actions violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 2), which is a no-no.
While disagreeing with the ombudsman’s constitutional analysis, OED agreed to revise its scoring system, which led to all three complainants qualifying for the federal monies in question.
An Alaskan who complained about a bank to the Division of Banking & Securities (DBS) complained about DBS after the agency refused to divulge the results of its bank investigation.
To complicate matters, DBS sent the complainant two letters with conflicting information about how DBS handles banking complaints. The ombudsman investigated the complaint against DBS and made several recommendations, all of which were accepted by the agency.
The ombudsman recommended that DBS re-open its investigation and in order to interview all important witnesses. The ombudsman also recommended that DBS work with the Department of Law to determine what type of information can be shared with an individual who files a complaint against a financial institution. The ombudsman further recommended that DBS release the results of its investigation to the complainant if the Department of Law determines that it would not violate statutes or regulations. Finally, the ombudsman recommended that DBS rewrite one of its regulations because it was unintelligible.
A parent complained to the ombudsman that the Office of Children’s Services had botched its interaction with her family and trampled her parental rights. Among other things, the complainant alleged that OCS had unreasonably removed her child from her home and from a relative’s home and placed the child with a family that sexually abused the child.
The ombudsman determined that OCS had acted reasonably and within the law, and that the complainant’s allegations were not supported by evidence. The ombudsman did not release a public report due to the confidential nature of the evidence.
Moose Rattles Inmate
An Alaska inmate complained that the Department of Corrections did not provide emergency treatment when the van in which he was being transported collided with a moose.
Investigation revealed that two Corrections Officers spoke to the inmate at the scene of the accident. At that time, the inmate said he was uninjured. The inmate was examined by prison medical staff shortly after the accident.
The inmate’s claim that DOC staff failed to follow state motor vehicle law in the wake of the accident also proved unfounded.
The father of a child in state custody was kept in the dark about his child’s court proceedings in violation of state statutes and delinquency rules, the ombudsman found.
Investigation revealed that DJJ failed to provide the complainant, a non-custodial parent, with notice of his child’s court proceeding and also failed to serve him with a Petition for Adjudication and a Summons.
The ombudsman recommended that DJJ conduct training for its staff regarding relevant statutes and delinquency rules. The ombudsman also recommended that DJJ review the relevant statutes and delinquency rules to determine whether any are impractical, superfluous, or redundant. The ombudsman recommended that DJJ administrators then propose amendments as appropriate to the Alaska Legislature. DJJ agreed to the recommendations and held a training session to ensure that DJJ staff was acquainted with statutory requirements related to parent/guardian notice and the service of summons.
The Office of the Ombudsman received four complaints in 2006 alleging violations of the Executive Branch Ethics Act by a total of six state employees. The ombudsman conducted a full investigation of one of these complaints alleging misconduct by a state employee in the Department of Health and Social Services (A2006-0054), and found the complaint to be justified. The ombudsman conducted a preliminary investigation of another of these complaints about the conduct of a state employee in the Department of Natural Resources (A2006-0546) and concluded the complaint was without merit. The ombudsman referred two other complaints involving four DNR employees to the department’s “designated supervisor” for ethics—commonly referred to as the Designated Ethics Supervisor.
The manner in which DNR’s Ethics Supervisors handled these complaints raised questions about the training Ethics Supervisors receive and the standards against which their performance can be measured.
The ombudsman conducted a survey of more than 40 State Ethics Supervisors to determine what training they received, their activities in educating department staff about the Ethics Act, and what internal policies and procedures guided them as they carried out their duties. The survey indicated that the Ethics Supervisors received little or no training nor did they conduct much training of agency staff, and that most had no departmental ethics policies. Most of the Ethics Supervisors favored receiving more ethics training.
The ombudsman recommended that the Department of Natural Resources (1) develop comprehensive department policies and procedures for ethics for the Designated Ethics Supervisor and all DNR staff; (2) review with the Division of Personnel the actions of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation described in the investigative report to determine whether the supervisor needed special training in the Ethics Act; (3) separate training in ethics issues from first-day-on-the-job paperwork to emphasize the importance of this topic to new department employees; and (4) provide department employees periodic refresher training in provisions of the EBEA as they apply to department business. These recommendations were accepted.
The ombudsman recommended that the Department of Administration (1) augment the curriculum of its “supervisor academy” to include coverage of the requirements of the EBEA and to ensure that executive branch supervisory staff understand the resources available to address potential violations of the EBEA and remove disincentives to reporting potential ethics violations; and (2) work with all state agencies to separate training in ethics issues from first-day-on-the-job paperwork to emphasize the importance of this topic to new state employees. These recommendations were accepted.
The ombudsman recommended that the Department of Law (1) devise a model policy manual for administrative agencies to use when evaluating reports of potential violations of the EBEA that come to the attention of a designated ethics supervisor in an executive branch agency; (2) design a training program for Designated Ethics Supervisors that covers the EBEA and a variety of actual or potential violations of the Ethics Act that illustrate how a DES should process reports of potential violations; and (3) team with the Department of Personnel to develop a mechanism to provide regular ethics information and instructional updates for all state employees. These recommendations were accepted.
The administrator of a state Pioneers Home used state resources to benefit his private counseling business, the ombudsman found. The administrator used state telephones, computers, and offices to conduct private business, and even stored business records on state computers. The ombudsman made three recommendations to eliminate this activity.
An inmate at Wildwood Correctional Center complained that the Department of Corrections (DOC) would not provide him with a set of dentures, which he said was contrary to agency medical policy.
Although DOC policy is to provide prosthetics such as dentures when such devices are medically necessary, DOC said the dentures were not necessary for this inmate. DOC had placed the inmate on a soft food diet, which it said was sufficient to maintain the inmate’s health. The inmate’s medical records showed that he was maintaining his weight on the soft food diet, supporting DOC’s position. DOC also noted that the inmate made no attempt to purchase dentures before the inmate was incarcerated, which also indicated that the dentures were not medically necessary.
The ombudsman found the inmate’s complaint not supported by the evidence.
The ombudsman was able to recover $4,000 that was confiscated in a police raid and later mistakenly deposited in the state government general fund. The money was returned to its rightful owner.
Alaska State Troopers (AST) confiscated the money during a raid on a house. The woman who owned the money was never charged. After the case was sorted out, troopers mailed her notice that she could pick up her money. The letter went unclaimed. When the woman asked after her money much later, she was informed that AST considered the money “abandoned” and had deposited it in the state general fund. She was told that she could no longer claim the money.
The ombudsman found that AST had misinterpreted or misapplied AS 12.36 and AS 34.45, which require abandoned funds to be delivered to the Department of Revenue Unclaimed Property Fund, where it is held for owners in perpetuity. The ombudsman found the woman’s allegation justified, and AST agreed with the finding. During the investigation, the ombudsman contacted the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund, which reimbursed the woman $4,000 out of its pool of unclaimed money.
The ombudsman found that the Office of Children’s Services erred by not informing a foster parent that foster care payments stop when foster parents decide to adopt the foster child.
The ombudsman found that the agency’s policy was reasonable, but that it was unfairly applied. In this instance, the adoptive parents had no idea the policy existed or that any change would occur to their status as foster parents until the adoption was final.
The ombudsman argued that the agency should pay the complainant the standard amount for foster care before the adoption became final. The agency agreed and also agreed to rewrite its adoption forms to clarify that foster payments end during the pre-adoption process.
An inmate at Ketchikan Correctional Center said that he witnessed another inmate being beaten to death by guards. The ombudsman investigated and found nothing to support the inmate’s allegation.
The inmate had phoned the girlfriend of an inmate who died in custody and told her that he had heard guards give her friend a beating and saw them pull his lifeless body into the hallway. The inmate said he was in the next cell and heard the whole thing.
An ombudsman investigator interviewed the informant and determined that he had not actually seen an assault upon the inmate who later died. The investigator viewed a video from a cell camera of the last few hours of the inmate’s life. The inmate was moving around and no one harassed him in any way.
Medical records showed that the inmate was undergoing alcohol withdrawal at the time; the state medical examiner ruled the cause of death as “natural.” The ombudsman found the allegation not supported
The ombudsman did not make a finding on the issue of medical care, but suggested that the Department of Corrections review its standards for treatment of inmates undergoing alcohol withdrawal.
A female inmate complained that the Department of Corrections had denied her application for a pre-release furlough as retaliation, because she had informed on a corrections officer who was having sex with another inmate. She had appealed the decision and was denied.
The ombudsman found that the inmate had been furloughed once after she revealed the illegal liaison, but was returned to jail for violating the terms of her release. The complaint involved her second furlough application. The denial of her second furlough application was reasonable under the circumstances, and the ombudsman found her allegation not supported.
However, the ombudsman criticized DOC for allowing her appeal to be decided by the same person who denied her furlough initially. This violated ombudsman standards and the intent of DOC’s own Policies and Procedures. The ombudsman recommended that DOC rewrite its policy to make clear that appeals are reviewed by someone not involved in the decision under appeal. DOC accepted the ombudsman recommendation.
Two inmates complained that the Department of Corrections lost their money when they were transferred from local jails to the Anchorage pretrial facility.
In one case, DOC had credited the inmate’s cash to another inmate’s account. This was rectified and the money returned to the owner. In the second case, DOC’s cash handling procedures were sloppy and included transferring cash across the state in paper sacks. DOC’s tracking of the cash was so poor that the ombudsman was never able to determine where the cash went.
The ombudsman recommended that DOC adopt more modern cash handling procedures, including using checks when transferring money from local jails to state prisons. DOC accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations.
The ombudsman helped a citizen receive public data from the University of Alaska--data the university at first refused to turn over. A man complained to the ombudsman that the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks refused to grant his request for data from the CES quarterly Alaska food cost survey. He said the university denied his request, delayed responding to his appeal, changed its reason for denying him in a second decision months later, and failed to follow its own appeal regulations.
The ombudsman found that the university, among other failures, responded to the complainant’s public records request in a manner that did not comply with state law, Regents’ policy, and university regulation.
The ombudsman made five recommendations to the university for improvement. The university accepted four of them and rejected one. The man, however, finally received the information he had requested.
The executive director of the Lower Kuskokwim Economic Development Council (LKEDC) complained that his council did not receive appropriate funding from the Division of Community Advocacy (DCA) due to unrealistic program requirements and conflicts of interest among the grant review committee.
The ombudsman found that DCA did not give LKEDC an opportunity to meet the requirements of a higher funding tier before awarding it a lesser amount. The ombudsman also found that DCA’s placement of potential funding recipients on the grant review committee created a conflict of interest. DCA was quick to correct the conflict problem.
The ombudsman also found that requiring costly financial reports from applicants was unreasonable because DCA did not review them.
The ombudsman made several recommendations to DCA, none of which the agency accepted. The complaint was closed as partially justified and not rectified.
Members of a local tribal council complained that the City and Borough of Juneau was billing them for property taxes on a building owned by the council. They argued that the building and land are exempt from local taxes because the deed was conveyed to the tribal council under the Alaska Native Townsite Act of 1926.
Although the Townsite Act provided for issuance of restricted, tax-exempt deeds to individual Alaska Natives, the Townsite Act also allowed issuance of standard (taxable) deeds. The Act did not provide for issuance of a restricted deed to a collective entity such as the council. The council’s deed was not restricted. Without a specific federal restriction on the land, legal precedent indicated that ownership by a Native council did not exempt the building from local property tax. The ombudsman found the complaint not supported.