State seeks 'development manager' for tasks similar to Penney's no-bid contract

I understand if you didn’t make it through the 1,900-word term paper published here Sunday on the no-bid contract bestowed on the grandson of a major benefactor of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Bob Penney spent more than anyone else in Alaska to influence the governor’s race last year, giving $350,000 to the shadow campaign that acted in most ways exactly like the official Dunleavy campaign, unhampered by the law that limits contributions to official campaigns to $500.

Someone in the administration, perhaps the governor or one of his top advisors, decided that a two-month-old company run by Clark Penney, 34, deserved a no-bid contract that could pay him up to $441,000 by the middle of 2022, with contract renewals, promoting new businesses in Alaska. To anyone not connected to the governor, this contract appears to be political payback. There was no attempt to seek competitive bids or find anyone else who could do it.

It appears that Dunleavy administration officials recognized that publicity about this contract would be bad for the governor, so there was no effort to publicize anything about Penney’s work for the New Industry Development Team, now apparently known as the Alaska Development Team.

The state commerce website has almost no information about it beyond the assurance that Alaska is open for business.

The Penney contract might never have become public knowledge at all, but blogger Jeff Landfield wrote about it on May 7, nearly six weeks after it was signed.

Here are four of the issues and questions that strike me as important:

  1. The state paid Penney the full $8,000 monthly fee for March, though the contract was not signed until March 20. Is that legal?

  2. Tom Boutin, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, signed the contract and was responsible for it. He told his board of directors, after Landfield’s story was published, that he knew next to nothing about the work Penney was supposed to do. On May 9, he wrote that he had not been briefed on the new industry team, but he would not reveal that to the public. He said the team was not an AIDEA matter. He also said he didn’t know if the team was based in the commerce department or the governor’s office.

  3. Was it done this way because working with AIDEA made it easier for the state to avoid competitive bids? Who told him to hire Penney? The state has not justified its decision to abandon competition, the rules for which are to limit favoritism and insider dealing.

  4. Boutin told the governor’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, to pretend that he did not know about the contract with Penney. Was this to divert attention from the obvious questions about whether the oversized role that Bob Penney played in helping Dunleavy win the election led to this contract?

Meanwhile, the state commerce department is recruiting for a “development manager”, with a job description and lofty expectations that sound a lot like the tasks assigned to Penney. The pay is similar too.

The purpose of the new job with the Alaska Development Team is “to expand business opportunities for existing Alaska businesses and to attract new business to the state” in everything from timber and agriculture to the military, oil and gas and tourism.

The job closes Sept. 13. The new hire will “ensure appropriate strategy/solution is proposed to attract new and grow existing Alaska business. Monitor actions and results against plans.”

Dermot Cole8 Comments