As scores of Alaskans prepare to climb Alaska’s most climbed peak this Saturday June 20 to celebrate the summer solstice — Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park east of Anchorage — they will come face-to-face with yet another abuse of power and public process by the Dunleavy administration — an illegally permitted American flag on the summit.
It was just disclosed that the Dunleavy administration’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in a closed, non-noticed meeting between DNR senior officials and a Republican State legislator, issued the legislator a permit, in violation of state policy, to place a permanent American flag on the summit of Flattop in the state park. Rep. Laddie Shaw (R, Anchorage) requested the permit to place the permanent flag atop Flattop, which the Park Superintendent had (correctly) previously denied.
The closed meeting (almost certainly a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act) was held in 2019 between three state officials — DNR Deputy Commissioner Brent Goodrum, CSP Superintendent Kurt Hensel, and Rep. Shaw — at which the Deputy Commissioner overruled the Superintendent Hensel’s previous denial of the permit, and ordered the Flattop flag permit application be approved, without public notice or process. The superintendent had previously (correctly) denied the permit, as permanent flags are not permissible in state parks under long-standing state policy.
But instead of abiding state policy and public process, the Dunleavy administration directed (bullied) the park superintendent to issue the permit, and the flag has been there, illegally, ever since. This shady backroom deal is just one more example of good-old-boy politics at their worst.
For years, individuals have placed flags on Flattop, and the park staff have removed them. These flags were often subject to graffiti, were poorly maintained, and are otherwise desecrated. Then Rep. Shaw leaned on the Dunleavy administration to sidestep state policy to grant him this special use permit for a permanent flag, which it obliged.
The flag now on Flattop (permits and June 8 photograph attached) contravenes park purposes, is an impermissible use of the park, and violates the State Parks “Memorials in Parks Special Use Permit Application Guidelines” adopted July 6 2006 (attached). The Memorial Guidelines require that any memorial in state parks have a “bona fide recreational purpose.” Memorials not permitted include: “Permanent monuments, markers, or other recognition-only structures that have no recreational or bona-fide park purpose;”....or “signs, flowers, flags, or any other site markers...” Rep. Shaw’s permit applications (attached) do not present any purpose for the flag, much less a bona-fide recreational purpose.
A permanent flag on Flattop in CSP clearly serves no recreational or bona-fide park purpose whatsoever. As such, the permit for this flag must be rescinded, the flag removed, and no other such permit should ever be issued in any state park, as per state park policy.
This prohibition would apply to any flag at that location, not just Rep. Shaw’s American flag that is there now. Any flag permanently placed in the park violates park purposes and State Park Memorial Guidelines, and is simply not permissible. If one flag is permissible, all others would be as well — a confederate flag, antifa flag, pirate flag, MAGA flag, Trump/Putin 2020 flag, communist flag, Iranian flag, pro-life flag, pro-choice flag, and so on ad absurdum. It would be unconstitutional for the state to discriminate based on the type of flag (as free expression) to be flown. If any flag is permissible, then all flags are permissible. It is easy to see how this could become unmanageable, and it is clearly contrary to state policy and the purposes of our parks. And it is inconceivable that the Dunleavy DNR would have permitted any other type of flag to be permanently placed in an Alaska state park.
That the flag Rep. Shaw placed on Flattop (in such an inappropriate manner) is an American flag is even more troubling, as many of the very ideals the American flag stands for — transparency, rule of law, public process — were clearly violated in placing the flag on Flattop. Placing the American flag illegally on Flattop constitutes a desecration, not honoring, of the flag, as it betrays what the flag stands for. There are clearly appropriate places to permanently fly the American flag, but a mountain top in an Alaska state park is not one of them.
Further, the State Park Memorial Guidelines stipulate the process such memorials must go through as follows:
Established Process: All memorials in parks shall go through an established permit process specific to the area administered and shall preferably go through a local public review process. This will include the review by a local State Park Citizens Advisory Board or similar group, if available. The process shall be:
Applicant/donor completes a Memorials in Parks Special Use Permit Application
Initial staff review of application, verification of completeness and minimum criteria for acceptance;
Review and resolution by the local State Park Citizen Advisory Board (if available);
Final review, revisions, and decision by the area manager;
Permit issued or denied;
If denied, appeals may be submitted in accordance with 11 AAC 02
The CSP/Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) has not considered the issue re: the Flattop flag, and thus the flag permit violates the procedural requirements in the Memorial Guidelines as well. While the CAB has agreed to consider the matter at its next meeting, its review is not necessary in this case as the permit is clearly inappropriate and illegal. This is, or should be, an open-and-shut case.
Alaska citizens first asked the park superintendent about the Flattop flag earlier this month, and at that time, Rep. Shaw’s annual permit had lapsed and expired. Park staff then rushed to re-issue the permit, back-dating it to Jan. 2020. Citizens then asked DNR Commissioner Corrie Feige last week to intervene and rescind the illegal permit, but the commissioner has been unresponsive (except to suggest that the petitioner submit the request as a formal administrative appeal, requiring a $200 application fee, and often taking years to resolve).
So even faced with a citizen recall petition for violating state law, the Dunleavy administration continues to blatantly violate state law on behalf of its political friends.
Bottom line: The flag on Flattop Mountain is illegal; it was placed there through a shady, illegal backroom deal between good-old-boys in the Dunleavy administration and a state legislator; and the state must revoke the permit and order it taken down immediately.