ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell's office has denied a media request to obtain records showing how the office handled complaints of sexual abuse in the Alaska National Guard.
It took 86 working days to deny the request for the records, the Alaska Public Radio Network reported (http://is.gd/Bx9yYB). Under Alaska regulations, government entities have 10 working days to fulfill a records request. They have another 10 if they need an extension.
APRN said that on Friday it received a response letter from policy director Randy Ruaro, who cites among other reasons the legal rights of privacy for victims.
Ruaro said his office has not had the staff necessary to quickly deal with a rash of requests. The letter noted a significant amount of information already has been made public. The response included a 56-page enclosure of news stories on the matter.
In April, Parnell told APRN that Chief of Staff Mike Nizich's email communicating with Alaska National Guard whistleblowers about sexual assault responses should be a matter of public record. At the time, Parnell said he asked Nizich to check his personal email and move such emails to the state account to become part of the public record.
"I spoke with Mr. Nizich and understand that was at the request of the chaplains who wanted to go outside the official channels," Parnell said at the time.
The records request sought any emails that Nizich sent to National Guardsmen beginning in 2010. It also sought correspondence between Parnell's office and two top officials with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs who resigned at Parnell's request after the release of a scathing federal report that concluded the Alaska National Guard mishandled sexual assault reports. The report cited a lack of trust in Guard leadership.
After the report was released, Parnell came under fire by critics who said he did too little in response to sexual assault allegations. Parnell, a Republican, is seeking re-election in November.
Following a debate Monday in Juneau, Parnell said he knew of the information request but had not reviewed any records. He referred questions by a KTOO reporter to Ruaro.
"We will comply with the statute to the best of our abilities, and that's why I suggest you go see and ask Randy Ruaro," Parnell said.
Parnell's main rival in the governor's race, independent candidate Bill Walker, questioned the exclusion of correspondence with National Guard chaplains who raised concerns about leadership.
"They're trying to apply a privilege that doesn't apply to them," Walker said. "Those chaplains are not the clergy for Mike Nizich and Sean Parnell."
APRN, however, independently obtained three emails sent by a National Guard chaplain, as well as one response from Nizich. In one email, the chaplain mentions the promotion of a senior officer who ignored the problem of sexual assault in his command.