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APNewsBreak: Dunleavy removes 3 human rights panel members

May 30, 2019
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Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska. On Thursday, May 30, 2019, Dunleavy has removed three members of Alaska's human rights commission, further changing it following a social media uproar that put the commission in the spotlight. Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow says Christa J. Bruce-Kotrc, Megan Mackiernan and Kathryn Dodge are being replaced. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy removed three members of Alaska’s human rights commission Thursday, completing a near-total overhaul of the typically under-the-radar commission more than two months after a social media uproar put it in the spotlight.

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said by email that Christa Bruce-Kotrc of Ketchikan, Megan Mackiernan of Nome and Kathryn Dodge of Fairbanks are being replaced.

The new appointees to the seven-member commission are William Craig of Sitka, Elizabeth “Betsy” Engle of Fairbanks and Evelyn Falzerano of Anchorage

According to the commission’s website, Bruce-Kotrc was first appointed in 2011, which made her the longest-serving current member. Mackiernan was recently elected chairwoman and said Thursday the commission had been moving forward.

With Thursday’s changes, all but one member of the commission will have been appointed by Dunleavy.

“This change will further help restore trust in the Commission tasked with protecting the rights of all Alaskans,” Shuckerow said in an email.

The stated mission of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights is to “eliminate and prevent discrimination for all Alaskans.” The commission’s website says it’s tasked with enforcing state human rights law. It accepts and investigates complaints.

The commission garnered attention in March, when then-executive director Marti Buscaglia questioned on the commission’s Facebook page the appropriateness of a “Black Rifles Matter” sticker on a truck parked outside the commission’s office in Anchorage.

Buscaglia has said she thought the sticker was racist and next to the picture asked: “In what world is this OK?”

She took down the initial post after the page was inundated with comments, saying it offended many gun owners who saw the post as the commission being against the right to own guns when she said that was not the case.

Last month, she announced her resignation after the commission voted 5-2 to suspend her for 15 working days without pay. Marcus Sanders, a Dunleavy appointee, and David Barton voted against the sanctions.

Around the same time that Buscaglia announced her resignation, two commission members said they were resigning. One, then-chairman Brandon Nakasato, said he thought new leadership was necessary for the commission to move forward. The other, Freddie Olin IV, cited personal reasons. Dunleavy swiftly announced replacements for both who, along with Sanders, were subsequently confirmed by the Legislature.

Sanders has said he didn’t think the punishment for Buscaglia was severe enough. He and Barton are the only members serving at the time of the controversy who remain on the commission.

Brent Linegar has said the truck with the sticker in question was one of his.

Linegar has a plumbing and heating business that was doing work at the building that day. He has said that he understood “Black Rifles Matter” to be about gun safety and “Second Amendment awareness.”

On Thursday, he said some time back he received a call from the commission apologizing “for how everything went down” and said they had a good conversation. He could not remember for sure the name of the person who contacted him but thought it was Sarah.

Sarah Monkton was acting director in Buscaglia’s absence but has since left that role. The current acting director, Nanette Gay, confirmed Monkton had reported reaching out.

“I know the department does good work and it didn’t reflect on the rest of the employees there,” Linegar said.

He said he didn’t have thoughts one way or the other on the changes Dunleavy made to the commission.

“I think the governor has a good head on his shoulders and knows what direction he wants to go in, and I’m sure he’s making the right decision,” he said.

Bruce-Kotrc, who said she’d gotten a call from the Office of Boards and Commissions Thursday thanking her for her service and saying she was being relieved from her role, said she enjoyed serving and wishes the commission well.

She said every commission deliberation she was involved in was thorough, thoughtful and carefully considered.

“I hope that that deliberative process will continue for the benefit of the citizens of the state of Alaska,” she said.

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