Alaska governor returning sealskin vest amid local ethics probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 27, 2015 10:50 PM

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Alaska's governor and lieutenant governor will return sealskin vests received as gifts, the governor's office said on Monday, amid an ethics investigation by a municipal government into possible misuse of taxpayer funds by its mayor.

The probe was ordered earlier this month by the North Slope Borough Assembly. The vests were bought for about $3,500 each from a daughter of the mayor of the borough, which occupies the northernmost part of the state.

Mayor Charlotte Brower's office paid about $7,000 to one of Brower's daughters for the vests in February, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

The newspaper reported that Brower has said her office sanctioned payments to family members under a policy that allowed for purchases of goods or services for less than $10,000 without a bidding process. Brower has since changed the policy.

A spokeswoman for the North Slope Borough did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The investigation is focused on whether taxpayer funds were used to buy the vests, made from the skins of bearded seals, from Brower's daughter, and whether these and other expenditures totaling tens of thousands of dollars improperly benefited the mayor's family. 

Last week, state media cited documents from a public records request in reporting that the borough paid $8,400 for flights and fees enabling Brower's five grandchildren to attend a five-day "Michael Jordan Flight School".

Residents of the borough's largest community, Barrow, had also raised concerns about the expenses, according to a memo from a special assembly meeting two weeks ago.

A spokeswoman for Governor Bill Walker said his staff is collecting the vests and would return them. Walker was given one and his second-in-command, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, was given the other, Walker's office said.

"These gifts are being returned to ensure that the public's trust is being upheld," Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette said.

The North Slope Borough is the state's largest and is home to several of Alaska's major oil fields. Though larger than Minnesota, it has only about 9,700 residents.

(Reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau, Alaska; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Eric Walsh and Ken Wills)