- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Nearly all of the employees of the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. who played in a charity golf tournament on a weekday last month took paid personal leave time that day, public records show.

The event was held out by a state lawmaker as an example of the need for agencies to exercise restraint in all activities that go beyond their core missions as the state deals with large budget deficits. The corporation is an independent state agency.

Records requested by The Associated Press show 19 of the 20 corporation employees who played in the June 25 tournament took personal leave for at least part of the day. Some returned to work, while others took personal leave for the full day, spokeswoman Stacy Schubert said.

The leave time was paid, Schubert said, noting that corporation policy dictates that paid personal leave be used before unpaid personal leave. Unpaid leave is reserved for special circumstances such as medical needs, she said.

In a news release last month, Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, called the event “symptomatic of a concerning trend within Alaska’s public corporations - forgetting that they operate with public dollars.” Gattis, a member of the House Finance Committee, said organizing charity events is not the proper function of state government.

“It would behoove AHFC to ask themselves ‘could private industry fill this role?’ when allocating valuable staff time and resources to activities outside their mission,” Gattis said.

Schubert said no state or federal money was used to put on last month’s event, which raised about $15,000 for the Nome Boys and Girls Club.

The 20th employee, Elaine Hollier, was paid for a full day, Schubert said by email. Hollier worked the tournament in the morning, helped clean up afterward and later returned to the office, Schubert said. Hollier retired from the corporation June 30, Schubert said.

The tournament is an annual event, dating back at least 20 years, Schubert said. Employees who played paid their own entry fees, she said. The cost was $150 per person.

Corporate sponsorships help to cover the event’s costs, and a minimal amount from the housing corporation goes in through staff time for things like planning and cleanup, Schubert said. The corporation fronted costs for shirts, towels, balls and a down payment on the course because those costs must be paid in advance, but it was reimbursed through tournament revenues, Schubert said in an email.

No legislators participated in the event. Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck, a member of the corporation’s board of directors, was the only member of Gov. Bill Walker’s administration who participated, Schubert said. It was her understanding that he wrote a check for his participation.

Schubert said she did not play, but she participated in the event and took leave that day.

The tournament provides an opportunity for the corporation to discuss its programs, including an effort in which the corporation is limiting to five years the financial aid a working family can receive for public housing, Schubert said. Nome is one of the places in which the corporation has public housing units.

Schubert noted that childcare can be a barrier to employment at times. The Nome Boys and Girls Club offers activities and events for local youth.

Gattis has helped bring attention to the corporation’s efforts, she said. “Telling the stories of Alaskans who are struggling - and benefiting from the work of our elected and other officials - is important,” Schubert wrote in an email.

Gattis said Monday that she wasn’t singling out the corporation but making a point about all state agencies needing to focus on their core responsibilities. She hopes agency directors have paid attention.

If not, “it will be embarrassing for them, because I have no doubt that the Legislature will say, ‘Gosh, if you have enough time and money to do this, maybe we can make some cuts there,’ ” she said.

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