FAIRBANKS — A husband and wife from Washington, D.C., with extensive government and church experience have taken executive positions in the Dunleavy administration.
Kelly and Niki Tshibaka, both Harvard Law graduates, are co-founders and co-pastors of The Lighthouse Fellowship, which is part of the Foursquare Church, a Christian movement founded by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920s.
It’s clear what she will be doing for the state as administration commissioner, but it’s not clear what he will be doing as assistant commissioner of education for $139,000 a year.
Kelly, who grew up in Alaska, has been named administration commissioner, following the flameout of John Quick over serious discrepancies in his accounts of his education and work history. That job pays $141,000 a year.
“God keeps wanting me to serve in government,” Kelly told an interviewer in 2015. “He keeps giving me crazy opportunities in my career. He has told me, ‘I’ve made you a Deborah. I’ve made you a mother to a nation.’ It surprises me that, in his plan, I’m more valuable to his work here than at church. People tell me things they can’t tell their pastor about.”
In the Bible, Deborah is a prophet, judge and leader.
Kelly began working in Washington, D.C., at the Department of Justice in 2002 and has had a variety of positions, most recently as chief data officer in the office of inspector general of the U.S. Postal Service.
“Despite her impressive job titles the past 13 years, the one she cherishes is co-pastor of Mount Vernon Foursquare Fellowship,” the 2015 account said. “She and her husband, Niki, planted the church in 2006 after mentoring from Daniel A. Brown, then supervisor of what was called the Capital District. Daniel had heard of their help with a Foursquare church plant in Cambridge, Mass., while both were attending Harvard Law School. He wanted to know if they would like to plant in the District of Columbia area.”
The church account said her “leading spiritual duty comes in the marketplace. Though emphasizing she avoids being obnoxious, she is still vocal about her Christian identity while at work. That includes leading discipleship groups at work, reading the Bible and discipling people.”
At Harvard, Kelly wrote columns that generated some controversy, including one in 2002 in which she said that, “Homosexuals can come out of homosexuality because their preference is not biologically mandated. Unlike race or gender, homosexuality is a choice.”
While she will be in administration, her husband will be in a new job created for him in the Department of Education.
The news release announcing Niki’s job as assistant commissioner is opaque: “Dr. Tshibaka will coordinate the efforts of multiple state departments to address safety and well-being issues. This work will include collaborating with students, school districts, tribes, community organizations, nonprofits and families to maximize educational opportunities.”
The news release quotes Education Commissioner Michael Johnson as saying that Tshibaka’s “experience as an attorney, and advocate for a variety of social justice issues, will be critical as we leverage resources across departments, in communities, and in partnership with nonprofits, to address the safety and well-being of our students.”
I asked for more information and was told he is to “implement health, safety and well-being policies and practices statewide.”
That doesn’t explain the job. I can’t tell if Pastor Tshibaka is supposed to promote armed guards in schools, expand funding for private schools, provide guidance to parents, insist that kids pay attention, support better meal preparation, encourage better study habits, recruit teachers or do any number of other things.
A clear justification is needed for adding an administrative job while the Dunleavy administration wants to cut funding for education under its slogan of “doing less with less,” which never came up during the governor’s campaign.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.