Updated with comment from Ruedrich, additional details, 9:11 p.m. 10/13/10.
FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller was nearly fired from his job as a borough attorney in 2008 after using borough computers in an attempt to oust the chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, former borough Mayor Jim Whitaker said Wednesday.
Whitaker said Miller’s actions violated the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s ethics policy but did not result in a termination because the borough needed Miller to continue working on its lawsuit about how much to tax the trans-Alaska pipeline system. Miller eventually resigned from borough employment on Sept. 1, 2009.
“I’m speaking now because this occurred on my watch as mayor, because I know the truth, and because I have an obligation to tell the truth,” Whitaker said in an interview with the Daily News-Miner.
He said that, as a former mayor, he would prefer not to be involved in “the political melee.”
“I also felt it was appropriate to give Mr. Miller enough time to come forward himself,” Whitaker said. “It’s clear with his statements of the other day, he’s not going to do that. Referring to the truth as innuendo and lies is not truthful.”
Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto refused to comment on Whitaker’s allegations.
“We're not going to comment further on this, but the campaign released records this past July conclusively demonstrating that Joe was not fired, but resigned, on his own accord, in September of 2009,” DeSoto said in an e-mail.
Whitaker, who served as borough mayor from 2003-2009, said he did not know exactly when Miller gained access to the computers in the borough’s legal department but said it was some time in the days immediately preceding the March 2008 convention of the Republican Party of Alaska. The convention was held March 13-15, 2008, in Anchorage.
Borough attorneys are only allowed access to each other’s computers for very specific cases, Whitaker said.
Whitaker said the computer security breach was discovered when another attorney in the legal department noticed something unusual about her computer, but Whitaker did not elaborate on what exactly that was.
The borough’s ethics policy states that “public office, facilities or employment are not be used for personal gain” and names “political activities while in work status” as a violation of the policy.
Miller was to be suspended for a period without pay for the incident, Whitaker said, but he added he was unaware if that punishment was carried out.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Miller admitted in writing to the breach,” Whitaker said. “It is my understanding that document is in his file.”
Whitaker said he has not seen Miller’s personnel file and that all of the information about the computer security breaches came to him from his chief of staff, the borough attorney and the human resources director.
The former mayor said it is his understanding that Miller used multiple borough computers to engage in “proxy voting” in an attempt to unseat Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who has held the position since 2000.
Miller was a regional chairman in the party overseeing seven districts at the time of the incident. His opposition to Ruedrich was well-documented in 2008, and he sent fliers to delegates attending the state convention to support a rule change that would replace Ruedrich with the party’s vice chairman, according to a March 9, 2008 Associated Press report.
However, Ruedrich said Wednesday that Whitaker’s accusations about proxy voting do not make sense.
“There is no proxy process at the state convention, therefore the allegations that anyone voted with state computers to influence the party’s chairman process is wrong,” Ruedrich said.
Ruedrich also questioned Whitaker’s motives for coming forward given his endorsement for Barack Obama in 2008 which led to then-mayor speaking at the Democratic National Convention.
The party chairman also noted that Whitaker has been closely associated with Sen. Lisa Murkowski since they were both in the state Legislature around 2000. Miller defeated Murkowski in this year’s Republican primary, and she is now pursuing a write-in campaign.
The former mayor said he was at the time “puzzled” by Miller’s use of borough computers for partisan purposes. While proxy voting may not have been used to select the party chairman, Whitaker said he remembers the term coming up in a meeting with his chief of staff, the lead borough attorney and the head of the human resources department.
However, Whitaker said they did not go into great detail about Miller’s computer use because he expected the legal department to deal with the problem.
“I’ve been very careful not to speculate and not to overstate,” he said.
Ultimately, Whitaker said the issue could be resolved if Miller releases his borough personnel file.
Whitaker said he has not contributed to any candidate in the tightly contested Senate race between Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams and write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Nor has any campaign asked him to come forward with the information, he said.
What is public?
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the online publication Alaska Dispatch on Monday filed separate lawsuits against the borough seeking more information about Miller’s borough employment, which ran from 2002-2009.
In July, the borough released 148 pages of documents and a 16-page log that listed documents that could not be released. The borough acted in response to public records requests from the Daily News-Miner and other media outlets.
On the list of non-releasable documents are several entries that coincide with dates just before and during the 2008 convention of the Republican Party of Alaska.
Among the several items on the borough’s July manifest of documents about Miller are statements from four unnamed employees on March 12 and March 13. The list also includes Internet activity reports for four employees for the time period of 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 12, 2008, the day before the start of the GOP convention. The list does not indicate the contents of those employee statements or of the Internet activity reports.
Miller has declined to release additional information from his personnel file or to allow the release of other information by the borough, saying such a release would violate attorney-client privilege and the borough would need to provide a release. The borough disputes Miller’s contention that such a privilege exists and says Miller has not granted it permission to release the documents.
After the Alaska Dispatch published allegations of misconduct by Miller on Sunday, quoting anonymous sources, Miller said he would address the controversy Monday at an Anchorage news conference. He later canceled the news conference but made a brief statement to reporters in which he said he would no longer answer questions about his past.
"We’ve drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask me about personal issues. I’m not going to answer, I’m not,” he said. “This is about the issues. This is not about continuing the personal attacks, it’s not about continuing the diversions based on illegal acts, this is about moving the state forward.”
Miller said information in his personnel file is confidential but has been illegally leaked to the news media.
Whitaker, the former borough mayor and Republican state legislator, also shed some light on what ultimately led to Miller’s resignation from his borough job last year.
An Aug. 28 resignation letter, which Miller and the borough released earlier this year, indicates Miller and his supervisor, borough attorney Rene Broker, had “significant differences of opinion” when it came to North Haven Communities, a semi-private housing manager on Fort Wainwright that has wrestled with the borough on the issue of property taxes. Miller also expressed his displeasure that Broker canceled his leave to go elk hunting with his sons. She said in an e-mail the same day that he was needed in the office.
Miller resigned on Sept. 1, 2009, effective that day, according to a partially redacted e-mail released by the borough. The same day, Broker told Miller via e-mail that he failed to give enough notice and this would affect his eligibility to be rehired.
Miller, in responding to media inquiries, has said that his vacation time still fulfilled the borough’s requirement that he give advance notice of his resignation. Broker said in an Aug. 28, 2009, e-mail to Miller that the public employee retirement system does not allow “terminal leave.”
Miller said he has never received an unredacted copy of his personnel record that would tell him whether or not he is eligible to be rehired. In an Oct. 7 letter to Miller’s attorney, Ward Merdes, the borough said Miller received an unredacted document on July 13 that “specifically advised him of his eligibility for rehire status.”
Miller should have access to his file and know he is not eligible for rehire, Whitaker said. Further, the former mayor said Miller was denied leave because two other attorneys were off at the same time — one attorney was pregnant, and the other was recovering from a heart attack, he said.
“Given the workload, the borough attorney felt it inappropriate for him to take time off,” Whitaker said. “They disagreed, the borough attorney informed me she was probably going to terminate Mr. Miller the following day. The next morning the borough attorney called me to inform me Mr. Miller had resigned.”
Whitaker said Miller was a “competent attorney” and that he was not aware of any other problems with Miller while mayor.
He would not comment on what the computer incident said about Miller’s character or ability to work as a senator.
“I’m not going to editorialize,” he said. “I came here today to tell the truth.”
Contact staff writer Chris Freiberg at 459-7545.