- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

June 9, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: Open to public

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority violated state laws, according to a special audit.

An Alaska Division of Legislative Audit released this week said the Trust Authority violated state statutes by investing $44.4 million in commercial real estate. The audit also said that the board violated the Opening Meetings Act and the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

The first finding might have been avoided if the board had a better working knowledge of the second.

The audit demonstrates the importance of any entity knowing and following the law, particularly the law that requires it to inform the public or the people for which it conducts business.

The Trust Authority should be conducting the public’s business openly and fairly, according to its bylaws and state laws. Its board and committees are to operate using Robert’s Rules of Order.

The Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, as described in the audit, requires fair and open conduct of the public’s business that preserves the integrity of the governmental process and avoids conflicts of interest.

The Open Meetings Act requires that business actions and deliberations by executive branch employees be public.

The evidence acquired during the audit showed that some trustees intentionally tried to conceal the authority’s business from the public and even other trustees.

The board would consistently conduct retreats without maintaining meeting minutes on multiple occasions, according to audit evidence. Some of the retreats were advertised to the public, while others weren’t.

On at least two occasions, some board members sought retreats as a way to avoid public discussions of particular topics.

The audit also stated that some board members discussed authority business via email. This resulted in some board members gaining information and others being left out. In one case, a Request for Proposals was issued without the knowledge of the entire board.

The board also was criticized in the audit for not making minutes for working lunches, not notifying the public in ample time to attend authority board meetings, and making improper motions to go into executive sessions, all of which were outlined in the trust’s bylaws and the Open Meetings Act.

The trust contends its investment practices were lawful and proved lucrative. State law states they were to be done through the Alaska Permanent Fund instead of by the trust.

The authority has acknowledged it had problems with its public openness and has indicated it would resolve those by rewriting its bylaws, providing more guidance to board members, including training regarding conflicts of interest and the Open Meetings Act.

The business being conducted by the authority is the public’s business; it’s done on behalf of the public and the public not only has the right, but the responsibility to know about it.

It’s a responsibility every bit as important as voting. It’s through the public holding government entities accountable that the democratic system in the republic is maintained and preserved. It has to know what’s happening in order to do that.

This form of government might not be perfect, but it’s the one that people gravitate to instead of away from. It is the people’s government. It’s openness and transparency that prevents corruption.


June 9, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: HB 151 will improve foster care

House Bill 151, The Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, didn’t get the broad public attention during the legislative process in Juneau that bills such as those dealing with the budget deficit or hot-button social issues often get.

But the bill, which Gov. Bill Walker signed into law Thursday, was a major one nonetheless. It makes significant changes to Alaska’s foster care system.

Change was clearly needed.

The number of children in foster care in Alaska has risen to where we now have, on average, about 3,000 children in foster care each month.

Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat who was a foster child, sponsored the bill and has been a longtime driving force for upgrading the state’s foster care system. He wrote in support of the bill that “when roughly 40 percent of our foster youth end up homeless at some point in their lives after leaving care, and roughly 20 percent end up in jail, it’s a call for reform.”

Indeed it is.

One of the biggest problems has been the workload of Alaska’s caseworkers. The new law sets a statewide average caseload limit of 13 families per worker, a number in line with the recommendation of the Alaska Office of Children’s Services and national experts. New caseworkers will be limited to six families in their first three months and 12 in their first six months.

OCS workers handle a much higher number of cases. The average per caseworker in Fairbanks in fiscal 2018 was 21 families, down slightly from the 23 cases in fiscal 2017 but still well above the recommended level. In rural Interior, the number per worker in fiscal 2018 was 24 families, up sharply from the still-high 18 cases of the previous year.

Office of Children’s Services has a high turnover rate among its caseworkers, with the heavy caseload being the top reason people leave the agency.

Reducing the caseload would, it is hoped, allow for longer retention of caseworkers, which translates to a higher likelihood a foster child will find a permanent home. A foster child whose case goes through multiple front-line workers faces delays as each new worker gets acquainted with a particular child’s circumstances and family members. The high caseload also limits the amount of face-to-face time a caseworker can have with each child.

Here are some other aspects of the new law, according to the House Majority Coalition, Rep. Gara’s sponsor statement, and other documents:

. Enables children ages 14 and older to participate in their case plans and permanent home goals.

. Caseworkers will routinely conduct exhaustive searches for relatives so more foster youths can be placed with loving family members.

. Requires the sharing of contact information so that siblings in separate foster care homes can maintain contact with one another.

. Allows foster parents to make normal decisions about a foster child regarding sports, vacations and other activities without approval of a caseworker.

. Enacts timelines for decisions on foster care home license applications and for variances for family members who are not licensed foster parents.

The foster care reform has at last been obtained. Now it needs to be implemented.

The too-many children in Alaska’s foster care system are waiting.

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