JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A California man appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to the board that reviews the tax value the trans-Alaska pipeline has withdrawn his name from consideration, saying he didn't want it to become an issue for Parnell.
Dennis Mandell told The Associated Press the decision was his own. He said that after talking with legislators, his appointment to the State Assessment Review Board seemed to be a "very political, hot issue." Mandell said he didn't want it to become an issue for the governor or a distraction from other issues the Legislature is dealing with, like a major gas-line project.
The former oil company analyst had been scheduled for a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee. The committee still heard the nomination of Parnell's other appointee to the board, Bernard Washington of Anchorage. His name was advanced to a joint session of the Legislature, which will decide whether to confirm.
Senate Democrats had urged Parnell to withdraw Mandell's nomination, pointing to a state law that says board appointees must be and have been before the last general election registered voters in the state. Mandell, of Salinas, Calif., said he last lived in Alaska in 1995 but returns a couple times a year.
Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said Mandell "did the right thing." He said he had no comment yet on Washington's appointment.
Washington, who testified by telephone, told the committee he spent 35 years in the oil industry and worked in areas including pipeline valuation. He is currently chief financial officer of Alaska Public Media.
Parnell on Thursday defended Mandell as an "incredibly professional and qualified." He said to his knowledge, no one in the administration asked Mandell to withdraw.
"But we compared notes. And when your chances of being confirmed are not there, this is one of those moments where he just chose to withdraw," the governor said.
Parnell maintains that under the Alaska Constitution, he is only required to appoint U.S. citizens to "quasi-judicial" agencies, which is what he says describes the board. The Legislature's top attorney, Doug Gardner, and legislative attorney Emily Nauman, in a legal memo to House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the appointment of a nonresident violates the law that had been pointed out by Senate Democrats. But they said there is "considerable question" of whether that law is constitutional under the U.S. and state constitutions.
The governor said he didn't make the Mandell appointment in hopes of a court challenge. But he said the issue will come up again and can be addressed in different ways.
An appointee to the board of directors of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., Richard Rabinow, who is also up for confirmation, is from Houston, Texas, Parnell's spokeswoman said.
Parnell told reporters he needs members on the assessment board "who Alaskans can trust will follow the law, not tilt the table one way or the other" — toward the oil companies or toward municipalities. He said he doesn't have trust that that is occurring.
When asked if he thinks Alaskans can trust individuals on the board who have worked much of their careers in the oil industry, he said it's offensive to "label everybody as being unable to be a fair and impartial appellate judge." Parnell noted that when he was lieutenant governor, one of his duties was to review proposed ballot measures. He moved measures through the process if they met the legal standard, even if he didn't agree with them, Parnell said.
Parnell last month dismissed Marty McGee from the board, which, with McGee as chairman, had set increasingly higher values for the trans-Alaska pipeline system.
The Alaska Supreme Court in February handed municipalities a victory in a long-running valuation case, finding the pipeline for 2006 should have been valued at nearly $10 billion, not the $850 million claimed by pipeline owners. Parnell said there's been a lot of focus on that number, but he said the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline has continued to fall since then and the valuation should not be higher now than it was then. He questioned the methodology the board was following.
The Alaska Department of Revenue last year said the pipeline system was worth about $7.2 billion, a figure challenged by several municipalities. The assessment board decided the proper number was $11.9 billion.
When asked why he didn't fire the whole board, Parnell said he hadn't considered it, "but I'm going to now."
There are two vacancies on the five-member board. Washington is one of the three currently serving, having been appointed earlier this year. The others were appointed in 1985 and 2011, according to the state Board and Commissions website.