Kate Burkhart is starting as the state’s new ombudsman this week, replacing Linda Lord-Jenkins who held the position longer than any other investigator since the agency started in 1975.
The ombudsman is a non-partisan position that investigates complaints of state agencies and will often make recommendations to agencies or the state legislature on how to fix problems.
Lord-Jenkins retired this week.
“The incoming ombudsman is a very capable, and talented and resourceful woman, and she has a real good track record,” Lord-Jenkins said. “I think the office will continue on and I hope people continue to use it as an option in dealing with state government.”
Burkhart started working for Alaska Legal Services as a public interest lawyer, she was an assistant ombudsman for a year under Lord-Jenkins, and then became the executive director for the Alaska Mental Health Board.
Burkhart sometimes volunteers with KRNN.
“I have a background in working with Alaskans from all over the state, and helping them resolve all kinds of problems,” Burkhart said. “I’m familiar with the work of the ombudsman and how important it is to ensuring government is responsive to the needs of its citizens.”
The ombudsman serves five year terms. Burkhart said it’s not a well-known office.
“I get asked the question very often, ‘Great you’re the ombudsman, what do you do?’” Burkhart said. “So I’m thinking that will be part of our outreach helping people understand what this office does. Really becoming a resource for more Alaskans.”
Lord-Jenkins said one of the office’s successes was its 2012 investigation into the Office of Children’s Services and its poorly designed system to receive and track complaints.
After the investigation she recommended adopting an agency-wide computer tracking system for grievances, as well as training for employees.
According to the most recent annual report released by the office, complaints sent to the ombudsman’s office against the Children’s Services increased by 59 percent in 2015. That year the ombudsman opened 250 new citizen complaints against the office.