Do we put predators into positions of power, or is there something about being in a position of power that pushes some people over the line and turns them into predators?
I pondered that question recently when I read a New York Times story about the resignation of Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.
He resigned after it was revealed that he sent 558 text messages to a female state employee in 27 days (he finally quit at the employee’s request).
Let’s set aside the question of the way Clarkson used his time. Simple math shows that he was sending this woman more than 20 text messages per day for almost a month.
The more disturbing thing is the nature of the messages.
Clarkson claims there was nothing wrong with the messages. He described them as “conversational” and “positive.”
The only “positive” thing about these messages is that they are positively the act of a predator attempting to use his power to prey upon a younger female in a subordinate position of employment in the state.
They included gems such as “You’re beautiful ... sweet dreams,” accompanied by an emoji of a smiling face blowing a kiss.
It is difficult to see how a reasonable person could interpret this as purely innocent, especially considering the fact that Clarkson is 61 years old and married, and the recipient is “decades younger,” according to reports. At least 18 of the messages invited the woman to visit him at his home.
The messages from Clarkson to the employee were brought to the attention of the governor’s office two months after the employee asked Clarkson to stop.
The Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica filed a public records request for all messages from Clarkson’s personal and state-funded mobile phones to the employee.
Alan J. Birnbaum, chief assistant attorney general in the state law department, said the department did not have the records.
Birnbaum later told The New York Times that the Alaska Public Records Act covers “public records.” The messages Mr. Clarkson sent the employee, Mr. Birnbaum wrote, “were personal records not public records and not in the possession or control of the Alaska Department of Law,” according to the Times report.
So, even after the situation was brought to light, Clarkson maintained that the messages were innocent, and his department declined to turn over the records.
After the news outlets obtained the texts from another source and the news story broke, Clarkson still maintained in his letter of resignation that there was nothing wrong with the messages, which he characterized as “innocent mutual endearments.”
However, calling them mutual or consensual cannot be a defense when there is such a disparity in the age and workplace rank of the two people involved.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced Clarkson’s resignation from his appointed office, and stated, “There is nothing more important than the protection of our state employees, and that includes feeling safe when an employee is at work.”
He described Clarkson’s actions as “deeply disappointing.”
Those actions should be disappointing, not just to the governor, but to the people of Alaska.
There are rules in place to prevent situations in which employees are placed in uncomfortable positions by the actions of higher-ranking employees or employers.
The fact that it took two months of intervention from news agencies to bring this matter to the attention of the public suggest that even today, we can’t always rely on companies or governments to police themselves.
We need to be vigilant to ensure that situations involving the abuse of power or potential abuse of power or inappropriate behavior involving subordinate employees can be reported and addressed without negative consequences toward the person reporting the situation.
That is the only way we can ensure a safe work environment for all employees.
We clearly cannnot rely on predators in positions of power to police themselves.