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Friday, December 30, 2011

Hark! Welcome 2012!

The New Year is a time to reflect on the changes we’re itchin to make. It’s the time to draft our list of wishes and intentions for the New Year.  While it is wildly popular to vow to go on that life changing diet, quit drinking (which by the way won’t be on CL’s list while reporting on this assembly), take up a new hobby, get organized or out of debt, we trust that you will come up with that lofty personal list if you choose to do so. 

And it would be tempting to come up with a laundry list of resolutions we WISH the Borough Assembly would make, but perhaps it’s a good opportunity to pen a few that we WISH the citizenry of the whole Mat Su would adopt.

1.      Get out of that snuggy, put down the remote, and pay attention!  You really don’t expect only a few folks to do the heavy lifting of engagement in local issues do you?  Local governance is the place where folks can make the biggest difference. Throwing up your hands or penning a letter to those who participate in the political theater in DC doesn’t get you much more than a form letter in return.  Here, closer to home at least you can get a personalized scoff or nod of approval at your suggestions.

2.      Participate in the public process by starting with your own voice. The opportunity for you to speak out in public meetings in the Borough appears to be slowly but methodically gerrymandered out one ordinance, one change at a time.  Participate and hold those on the Assembly accountable that would diminish the time allowed for this important part of governing.  You give the doers of evil a bonus by allowing the assembly chambers be filled with those that only agree with a few assembly member’s personal ideology.  Be your own cheering section for the sane.  If you just can’t be there in person, and let’s face it, not everyone lives shouting distance away, listen to the live stream on Radio Free Palmer for each meeting or download the podcast on the site.  Really no excuse to miss it! And then call or send the Assembly an email with your thoughts on their actions.

3.       Pay attention to things that you believe in like public education, borough planning and economic development. You know the cornerstones of what makes us a viable, livable, prosperous community. Let your views be known by public testimony, emails and phone calls to your assembly members. Too often the excuse for assembly action or inaction is not hearing from the public otherwise on an issue. Waiting for “your issue” to be in the forefront is too late.  We need to go to battle for each other’s issues.  It is a well known fact that some or all of the Assembly keep scorecards of who is for or against an issue and use it as their rationale for lame logic and poor votes.

4.      Word of mouth is still one of the best vehicles to get the word out. Email is an amazing tool without the cost of a stamp or the time of a phone call. Use it.  Contact your neighbors and other members of the community to inform them or better yet drag them with you to Assembly meetings and share the bevy of knowledge.

5.      Demand that your Assembly members be present.  Continuously “phoning it in” is not an acceptable way to represent your constituents. Those that step up to lead shouldn’t be able to do it from a perch in another country or even from an area of our own country. We don’t allow our state or federal delegation to participate in voting on issues or testifying by phone, so why are we settling for less?  Insist on more.

6.      Pay special attention at budget time at the Borough, which by the way, is right around the corner.  Budgets have become the red herring of governments.  Don’t allow the starving of the beast to set the agenda.  Insist that your taxpayer money is well spent but be realistic about the cost of those services.

7.      Demand a Borough iron clad ethics code.  If your city within the Borough doesn’t have one get the ball rolling to get one in place.  Be adamant that the Borough adopt a better one (they will get a chance at the Jan 17th Assembly meeting) and that it sets the bar high.  Lip service on this one doesn’t cut it. A good solid, easily understandable ethics code will make the rest fall in place.  It will guard the Borough like those fancy lions you see at multi-million dollar mansions.

8.      And last, but certainly not least, regularly read this blog, share it with your friends and neighbors and always follow the golden rule of exercising your right to VOTE! 

     Have a safe last holiday of the year weekend.  Swill some good champagne, be good to yourself and mindful of your neighbors whose cat, dog or family member might not enjoy the fireworks as much as you do.  

    Best of 2112 to you all! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Twelve Days Of Christmas in Mat Su

On the first day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have a veto proof Assembly and a ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the second day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial  Mayor in a birch tree.

On the third day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have 6 subdivision plats with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the seventh day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the eighth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have a new neighborhood coal mine, 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the ninth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have limited public comment, a new neighborhood coal mine, 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the tenth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have an ethics code under attack, limited public comment, a new neighborhood coal mine, 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the eleventh day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have no place to park their new ferry, an ethics code under attack, limited public comment, a new neighborhood coal mine, 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

On the twelfth day of Christmas the people of Mat Su have a big bright open for business sign that always was aglow, no place to park their new ferry, an ethics code under attack, limited public comment, a new neighborhood coal mine, 7 hour Assembly meetings, 6 subdivisions with no road access, 5 voting nonresident property owners in community council areas, 4 subdivisions without water from mining in the water table, 3 gravel pits on each side of their property, no tower ordinance, a veto proof Assembly and ceremonial Mayor in a birch tree,

The Citizen Lobbyist wishes all a Happy Holiday Season!

***Some of the content in this article is a figment of the CL’s vivid imagination.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

They don't always save the best for last..

It’s a wrap.  And I don’t mean the kind with turkey, beef, lettuce or other condiments. The last regular assembly meeting with a side of a special meeting for 2011 is all over but the mopping up by citizen lobbyist. And since it tis the season to be frantic, in short order here are the highlights or should I say low-lights.
The special meeting described here as the Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act was taken up, and lived up to the name we have coined for it.  Your assembly has voted to give "43" the new number to this ordinance.  You know the sum of the two ordinances (16 and 27) they are trying to keep together in a loveless marriage? Like giving it a new number should make us all feel better?  That’s about the least harmful action that was taken.  Regardless of the numerous cautions from more than one borough attorney (and it should be noted here it takes at least 2 clerks and sometimes 2 attorneys to try to keep this bunch in the corral at almost every meeting) to not renew an old practice contrary to state law of serial wavers, the majority (other than Keogh, Halter and Woods) voted to do it anyway.  Assemblyman Colver led the charge to continue throwing the dice on serial wavers since it “hasn’t been challenged” and “we haven’t been sued” and “my outside council is better than yours” wooed the boys of the band to a yes vote.  Just as in committing a crime until some are caught, they don’t know how that prison jumpsuit will look on them.  There were a couple other ugly amendments that passed including one that sure looks like it ties the hands of future assemblies on a couple of counts. The kabuki dance continues on this one in early February at yet another special meeting.

Folks in Talkeetna won’t have to pay increases in their sewer and water rates just yet.  By unanimous consent the assembly decided to bounce that back to the manager and staff to come up with some other suggestions to pull the utility out of the red. Like perhaps using a portion of the bed tax (about $900,000 that is collected borough wide) to apply for more grants or perhaps include a couple of the outstanding notes in the capital budget. Then  the borough could collect a smaller increase from the users. All options that need to be looked at before it makes its way back to the assembly.   

Who said the all boys club of an assembly wasn’t in the holiday spirit? The rest of the agenda which included set back requirements for the Alaska Railroad that the assembly again was at odds over with their attorney on his opinion passed unanimously.  This topic will be at the forefront with the expansion of the railroad line at Pt Mackenzie. 

Assemblyman Colligan representing the Wasilla area successfully sponsored his first piece of legislation in a resolution supporting HB 88 regarding individual rights under the constitution.  Mr. Colligan was doing some lifting for Representative Gatto on this anti-“sharia law” bill that ran out of steam in last year’s session. I guess because big issues like where to park a ferry we own and driving on the most dangerous roads in the state aren’t as pressing, Colligan picked this one to shepard and sponsor.  There was some flag waving public testimony that you might expect from such legislation.  Basically it invokes a reaction from citizen lobbyist of “keep on walking, nothing to see here”.  

Reconsideration on the gravel ordinance made a pass through at the end of the meeting.  There were a few technical changes and a bit of foot stomping but it was given the Assembly stamp of approval.  Assembly member Keogh did advise the body he was troubled by much of the ordinance as passed and will be bringing forth an amendment on bonding which is sorely lacking from both the state requirements and borough for reclamation.  Heck if you’re renting a school gym you have to have proof of insurance but drilling in the water table or reclaiming a gravel pit..yeah not so much.

Next up will be a meeting December 29th from 10am-2pm at Assembly chambers for the yearly assembly planning session.  Normally an all day Saturday event well into the New Year held at various places in the borough has been an opportunity for the Assembly to prioritize and get their act together.  However, to share the love this year in the name of efficiency ala Assemblyman Colligan it will be a held at the borough during the day, during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year.  That outta invite a huge crowd for input doncha think?  But alas if you can’t make it, there will be some snow boots on the ground for a report.  Next regular scheduled meeting after that is January 17th and there will be some juicy topics on that agenda. There will be the update of the ethics code.  Perhaps you have seen folks sporting buttons that say “got ethics”.  And then the ever popular “let’s limit public input and participation”new code ordinance in the big bunch of fun headed our way.  If you care to have your voice heard on all things “Borough” you just have to make the time to let the ceremonial Mayor and Assembly know you do not like this code change that limits the public’s voice.  We’ll see if our assembly has any other surprises at their first meeting of the New Year on January 17th

This meeting wrap up without condiments also puts the bow on citizen lobbyist’s work for 2011 except for the upcoming last post of the year  …the 12 days of Christmas.  It will be under your blog tree before Santa comes to visit.  You can ignore the don’t open to Christmas label. 

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Now get out there and agitate and participate!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act...

Members of the Assembly must have all their Christmas shopping and chestnut roasting out if the way because they have scheduled an action packed agenda for their regular assembly meeting Tuesday December 20th. And since a regular meeting isn't enough fun 5 days before a very large man in a red suit comes calling they are extending the entertainment by having a special meeting starting at 3:30pm the same day  to address Ordinance Serial No. 11-072: AN ORDINANCE REPEALING MSB TITLE 27 AND ADOPTING MSB TITLE 16, SUBDIVISIONS. 

But what it really should be called is the Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act. And here's why.

Subdivision code guides how our communities and our neighborhoods develop.  It affects the quality of our roads, emergency access, suitability of soils to accept effluent without entering the water table, inter-connectivity of our transportation system, provision for utilities, and so on…… countless ways that the code affects our day to day lives, and our wallet.  The Assembly is undertaking an overhaul of the subdivision code.  Maybe the Assembly calls it “overhaul.”  Most, though, call it “gutting.”

One would think that something this complex and with such far-reaching effect on the citizens of the Borough would warrant much thought and care, with broad public participation and plenty of time to understand and consider the ramifications. 

Unfortunately, the Assembly is proceeding with very little chance for the public to participate or be heard; except for the Mat-Su Business Alliance.  The Mat-Su Business Alliance has proposed a new subdivision code, and it is that version that is currently before the Assembly.  We wonder what became of the recommendations of the Planning Commission.  We wonder what became of the recommendations of the Platting Board.  We wonder why the Road Service Area Boards, the Fire Service Area Boards, the Community Councils have not been informed and asked to participate.    Here are a few tidbits:

1.  Relaxed subdivision road standards means bad roads (you know…. mud holes, bad drainage, poor road material, etc.), which the taxpayer must ultimately pay to fix, while the subdivision developer enjoys umbrella drinks in Vegas.

2.  Relaxed standards for ensuring proper easements and constructability for utilities raises the specter of future need for utility relocation, at potentially significant cost to the taxpayer.

3.  Reducing public notice and comment period to 15 days from 21 days means that the public, in particular the Road Service Area Boards, the Fire Service Boards, and the Community Councils, is, as a practical matter, deprived of the opportunity to be heard on Platting actions.  [due to meeting schedules, mailing time, need for receipt of comments by Platting in time to prepare the packet, etc.]

4.  The current version of the Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act, specifically allows an “unlimited” number of “serial waivers.”  Let me explain:  A Waiver Subdivision (referred to as “waiver”) is the division of a single lot into up to four lots, as allowed under Alaska State Statute, where normal subdivision rules are “waived.”  A “serial waiver” is a series of waivers of previously waivered parcels, creating far more than the four lots.  Serial waivers may facilitate the development of a full fledged subdivision without having to comply with normal subdivision development rules.  This has the potential for significant negative impact to road quality, access, utilities… the full Monty.  And, to boot, the practice of serial waivers, according to the Borough Attorney, is “illegal under state law.” 

5.  To make it all that much worse for the taxpayer… this serial-waiver-end-run-around-normal-subdivision-rules would be allowed WITHOUT PUBLIC NOTICE; NO NOTICE TO ADJACENT PROPERTY OWNERS, NONE TO ROAD SERVICE AREA BOARDS, NONE TO EMERGENCY SERVICES; NONE TO COMMUNITY COUNCILS.

6.  The Assembly proceeds, making amendments piecemeal to specific sections of the proposed MSBA version of our subdivision code, without any apparent regard for how a particular amendment of one section may affect another section of the proposed code.  The word “chaos” comes to mind.  And it’s being done without really hearing from the public.  No evidence that the Assembly cares much about coming up with a subdivision code that makes sense and where the public is well served.  The Assembly is taking us down a very, very ugly road, and we are all going to be paying for it for years and years to come.

Those are some of the big reasons in a nutshell destroying yet another planning tool Title 27 is a awful idea. It’s like using a bulldozer when maybe a hand held hoe would remove a few weeds.  It might serve as a economic stimulus tool for some developers and surveyors but to the rest of us it’s just a Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act. Use the links to the side of the blog and contact your assembly. And while you’re at it tell them your thoughts on mining in the gravel table since that will be back before them in this regular meeting later the same night.  

You just can’t count on this assembly to be awash in holiday joy and reason to do the right thing for the folks of the borough.  Even Santa would say that’s too much to wish for.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Assembly doing their duty despite the fa la la time of year...

Months ago a couple of assembly members were bemoaning their responsibility of serving as armed guards for the borough piggy bank and the necessity of voting to authorize a change order that called for some taxpayer money to be spent to complete a project. It was decided that an assembly work session to examine what they thought was a problem in need of a solution needed to occur post haste.  So, like the knights on white horses they envision themselves to be, they assembled on Tuesday. Procurements, the acquisition of goods and services was the special meeting subject matter this time.

Hardly an assembly meeting has gone by the last couple years without the usual suspects at the assembly table repeating ad nauseum, like some member of a cult, the need for the “Borough to be open business”.  Part of the attempt to swing open the Borough doors that they were convinced and busy trying to convince others someone had padlocked shut, was to go through the procurement code and make “changes” for a more business friendly environment.  What the rules of the road are when government spends money turns out to be pretty interesting and in some cases complicated. The assembly was told that along with following Borough code, projects funded with state and federal monies have their own host of requirements to fill in the blanks. After four hours of questions were asked and answered and although they assured themselves a great discussion had been begun with a suggested future work session, it turns out there isn’t that much to pick apart.  But since that is the job of the citizen lobbyist job, we will help you understand what’s happening.

Assembly member Arvin (who was actually there in person and not on teleconference which means that the cardboard Arvin will have to go back in the closet until he returns to Taipei) was concerned that the Borough wasn’t following code.  The Borough, by all appearances and explanation is following code.  Yes there is the ability to do more with either additional code or in some cases more forceful management.   Surely the assembly will find this just peachy until a concerned (wink wink) citizen happens to call and give them a earful.  A couple of members were distressed that fewer bids from proposals aren’t being awarded in the Borough.  Hope they didn’t lose any sleep over that.  Documents presented show a steady increase over the years in awards issued.  Assembly member Halter was concerned that there are increased costs to RSA’s in administration and cost of road design in proportion to total cost which still needs to be examined and might have some merit.  Assembly member Woods just doesn’t see where the effects of school design has any impact on educational outcomes.  Yeah he will need some schooling himself on that one. 

For the record, the Borough ceremonial Mayor did his ceremonial job and called the meeting to order then promptly handed the gavel over to Deputy Mayor Arvin and made an exit.  Mr. Arvin then chaired the meeting with 5 other assembly members that lasted until 7:30 PM.  This didn’t go unnoticed by Assembly member Keogh who had watched a scheduled joint meeting with the school board that was to take place on this same night at 6pm cancelled by the ceremonial Mayor for an anticipated lack of a quorum.  Hmmm…apparently Mr. Mayor has a crystal ball.  It’s still unclear why this joint meeting ended up with a bull’s eye on it for cancellation. Was it the fact that economist Neil Fried was scheduled to address the joint bodies about the state of the borough economy being positive paired up with the news that the procurements in the borough are on the upswing?  Well that doesn’t jive with the endless drum beat of the Mayor and some Assembly members saying the Borough is not business friendly and needs to be “open for business.”  Maybe the ceremonial Mayor was just antsy with nothing to throw a veto at. Somehow like a good New Year’s Eve party, chances are we are gonna be hearing about who was doing what in the closet with a party hat on before we get to the bottom of this.

With a whole slate of Borough projects coming up rapidly after voters gave their nod to both a mega school bond and possible execution of road bonds a “well baby check” of how business is done isn’t an all together bad thing. It would be better for the valley if it weren’t framed in the same old tired argument and the recheck and the final outcomes of the inquiry produced some rules of the road that protected the taxpayer and the business community.  Some members need to be reminded that they have been presented evidence time and time again that no matter what some valley business organization that has joined them in coining a phrase about the borough not being open for business, the facts speak otherwise. Even when you knock them off the schedule to speak.

But then you know what they say “he who pays the piper buys the tune”.   

Friday, December 9, 2011


The last week of assembly meetings should leave observers feeling like they are covered with flour at a baking party hosted by raccoons.  Following is the recipe of the tasty holiday layer cake your borough assembly baker men stuffed in the oven and it’s guaranteed to hit your digestive track with a splat.  So slip on your best baking apron and one of those silly hats if you have one and try to follow along. 

Gravel Mining Layer yumm.. crunchy

This should always be the bottom layer with a pan built for plenty of potentially toxic runoff.  Be sure you throw in all the ingredients from other recipes for this layer that you have been saving in the drawer.  And don’t forget to get one from the Alaska Rock Association that specializes in making the most return for their piggy banks with the least restrictions.   You can delete any prior suggestions for “natural substances that have water and nutrient holding capacity etc” or other silly ingredients like bonding.  Let’s hope this layer doesn’t make you visit an emergency room after eating.  To insure a better frosting for this layer let your imagination run wild by substituting unidentified “organic materials” that might be wood chips or even a dash of sewage to finish it off.  Fairy dust is just too expensive and hard to come by but a fine substitution if it’s organic. At this point, you might want to purchase a herd of camels that can carry gallons of clean water for your personal water use. This layer can have as much as 5 years to sit on the counter before you decide to pop in the oven. Three of your bakers Woods, Keogh and Halter attempted to postpone baking this possible lethal layer but the other bakers in the room are giddy to get it in the oven.  Don’t plan on serving this layer to assembly baker man Keogh.  He doesn’t have the stomach for this but bakers Arvin and Colligan would like you to make a layer big enough for seconds please.  This gravel mining layer seemingly ready to pop in the oven Tuesday was unexpectedly delayed Wednesday when assembly baker man Woods donned his baking mitts and pulled this layer off to the side and will recheck  all the ingredients at the December 20th meeting.

Community Council Layer yumm.. not so tasty

You can expect plenty of negative input on this layer with the current recipe suggested by the lead “ceremonial” mayor baker.  Expect to hear suggestions that “no notice has been given” while you are preparing this layer and that additionally this recipe is “in search of a problem that doesn’t exist”.   Your assembly baker men will become agitated and although their ceremonial lead baker mayor suggests that there is a “need to minimize or maximize the influence of the people in this community that pay our bills” this layer will be set for re-mixing and baking April 3rd.  Part of the recipe that won’t be considered however, is the portion the ceremonial baker mayor suggested for pro and con signup sheets at assembly meetings.  All bakers voted to throw that ingredient in the dumpster.  Let’s hope it doesn’t get rechecked, remixed and added in again.  

Texting Layer yumm.. the mushy texture

After a poll in the local newspaper the “Frontiersman” revealed that folks in the valley weren’t interested in any treats that were baked up by just a couple of assembly baker men.  It seems sending messages back and forth during meetings is not a good recipe.   Baker Keogh had presented a delectable recipe at a previous assembly meeting but the other bakers said NO.   Magically a similar version was now on the counter and ready to be popped into the oven after a stir by assembly baker man Colligan.  This layer is done for now but needs work.  More general in nature this recipe refers to the limits of the open meetings act that all assembly bakers are to conduct themselves under.  Time will tell if this somewhat bland recipe that was accepted will be enough to make sure that secret ingredients aren’t added by assembly bakers. 

Five Year Timber Harvest Layer yumm.. the smell of cut wood

After a four year moratorium on this layer there is hope the proper recipe has been found through a stellar new recipe contained in the borough Forest Management Plan adopted in 2010.  Prior recipes for this layer were a disaster and the cost to your borough was millions. Baker Arvin employed then by one of the companies that sued during previous recipes of this layer is anxious to get something in the oven once again and let the market decide how big the layer should be. Baker Halter was successful in preserving some ingredients to add to a future wood-fired boiler in Su Valley High.  The layer is now ready for its bake off.

Subdivision Rewrite Layer yumm..  the if you build it will they eat it ?

Baker Colver has been hysterically working on this layer of the assembly cake since he rolled it out last summer in the heat of a busy kitchen.  Some “wanna be bakers” presently employed as surveyors or developers are anxious that the finished cake include their ingredients to flood the market with cheap lots and less than a few rules for development and have been standing by for months ready to lend a hand with the finish of this layer.  The stirring of remote subdivisions that will be opened up are sitting at the top of the bowl now waiting for the dough hook.  How to mix up the rules for these developments without access, how that might impact existing RSA’s and who will pay for it once it’s baked is stuck in a goopy glob of taxpayer molasses .  More work will continue on this layer at a special meeting December 20th at 3:30pm prior to the regular assembly bakers meeting.

There you have it.  This week’s holiday assembly layer cake prepared by the assembly bakers you elected.  Citizen Lobbyist can only report about the preparation.  You the voter have to decide how it digests and if the assembly baker sitting at the table is really delivering the product that doesn’t leave a foul taste in your mouth or praying for someone to perform the Heimlich method. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spinnin' like a top..make it stop!

The cliff notes to the six hour assembly meeting last night will have to wait until the assembly top turned a little off its axis stops spinning.  The biggest item on the agenda was the borough wide gravel ordinance including the assembly nod for gravel mining in the water table or is it mining our drinking water?  The ordinance passed after a three hour tit for tat only to have Assemblyman Woods from Palmer file a motion to reconsider the ordinance this morning on the “Yes” vote he cast. That puts the whole issue of a gravel ordinance back on the next regular assembly meeting agenda Dec 20th.  

And this is where I get a case of the vapors...

Not sure what that means or why Assemblyman Woods wants a “do over”, but might get some insight later when the assembly who clearly didn’t have enough fun last night, meets again at 6pm tonight.  Tonight’s meeting is to consider the re-write of the subdivision code sponsored by Assemblyman Colver. This tasty nugget gets a whole meeting to itself.  

Radio Free Palmer will be streaming the Matanuska Borough School Board Meeting at the same time thus no live coverage on this one.  But school issues are important too and sometimes they tie together like the perfect bow. 

If you’re not able to will yourself to the assembly meeting tonight (hey it was the place to be in Palmer last night the assembly played to a packed house) when the spinning queasiness is over we'll put our own spin on it here.
Let’s hope someone got their nap today…

Monday, December 5, 2011

big dang meeting reminder.....

The reality of what it means to totally eliminate the Mat Su Borough tower ordinance,  the handy work of the current assembly a few meetings ago, has hardly been noticed. Well, tomorrow the same majority held group will take on the long stewing gravel ordinance. If the rules of gravel extraction and residents’ right to preserve clean water to drink aren’t enough fun for one meeting, the possibility of drastically changing the rules governing who votes on our local community councils AND how the public is allowed to testify at assembly meetings will be taken up as well. See the previous post for all the gory details of both.

Residents of the borough cannot be reminded enough that there are currently some loud voices that make up the majority at the assembly table.   This group has made it pretty clear that it's their intent to make "no rules development” in the borough the road more traveled.  It will be too late to scream and flail around after you’re itchin to sell to leave for warmer climates or to take care of sick or aged family members when the annual visit won’t do anymore.   You will find out your property values have taken a dive and your piggy bank is shrinking.  Or after years of driving the long Glenn Hwy five days a week, your Anchorage employer suddenly announces that they won’t be expanding to the valley after all because of the uncertainty of investment in our Borough brought on by the "no rules development” wrecking crew.  You’ll be a commuter a lot longer than you thought even though you got your road warrior badge years ago.

Tomorrow night is a big dang deal assembly meeting at 6pm at the Borough.  Even though the packet is only 500 plus pages it contains some giant issues that you need to weigh in on by either emailing assembly representatives before then or planning on being there  to give them your personal three minutes of enlightenment. To make it even easier here is the link to the calendar with agenda.

If you want to listen live AFTER you have emailed your thoughts to the assembly and stay home to put tape on your ho ho ho  Christmas wrap (although it seems much more effective to provide testimony in person) tune into Radio Free Palmer which will be streaming the meeting starting at 6pm.  

Cliff notes of the meeting will be posted here after the fun is over.  But it might not be pretty if you don’t do your job first and make some noise.

just sayin..

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our borough mayor runnin with scissors...

If you’re a parent, and even if you’re not, you know what happens when a room full of un-chaperoned squealing kids goes all quiet.  That’s when someone finds the scissors, and before you know it, “home barbershop” has taken on a whole new meaning and it’s the day before the family photo. The borough mayor has been busy during this little break between assembly meetings it seems, and the citizen’s of the borough might just end up with a whopper of a haircut.

Vote gerrymandering…
Told you about the community council game changer ordinance headed to the assembly table Dec 6th  and how it would give individual community councils the ability to decide who they allow to vote.  The mayor has now introduced a substitute ordinance to make it clearer what he has in mind. The new spin on the legislation adds language making it obvious what the mayor is trying to achieve, and that it would “allow Community Councils to decide whether they want to” expand the definition to allow landowners as well as residents to be members of community councils. They will need to have some time to amend their bylaws and possibly their articles of incorporation to provide for membership by property owners. So there’s part of the rub.  Besides the huge issue of allowing mega land owners and corporations to take one more step into our everyday lives by now becoming a voting person in local community council issues, the cost of making those changes is the financial burden of the community council.  Isn’t that just the icing on the cake?  Pretty sure it wasn’t long ago that more than a few councils found out that if they were not incorporated that they couldn’t receive any revenue sharing according to state regulation.  This was a pretty big chunk of change to a volunteer community organization that cannot charge dues of more than $10.00 per member yearly to meet the cost of its operations. Have you bought a cartridge of printer ink lately?  That will cost you about 6 or 7 yearly members’ dues.  Again the mayor would like to shift the cost of changing regulation to fit his criteria to another pocket, yours.   Of all the cans kicked down the road this one begs for a big punt. 

A head pat and a slap….
And apparently the mayor has found the time to read the local paper.  The “Frontiersman” published an interesting editorial that called out the mayor and five of the six assembly members for not taking the life line assembly member Keogh threw them banning cell phones and texting at the assembly table.  The Frontiersman called the mayor and the 5 assembly members “out of touch with the wishes of those who they serve” “Snap!” That will leave a mark.  The newspaper called it just right supported  by a back up poll on their site that asked “Should elected officials be permitted to send email, texts or take phone calls during public meetings?” As of today, 87% of those voting said a big whopping NO!  So the mayor has straightened his crown and whipped out another resolution.  Resolution 11-158 is a dandy. After a series of whereas’s and supersedes the mayor is now adding that “during assembly meetings the Mayor and members of the Assembly will not communicate electronically with each other, so that all deliberations happen openly and publicly”. That’s the head pat part.  No specific language about cell phones, texting or otherwise but it might satisfy a few of those Frontiersman readers and poll voters.  No mention of people, lobbyists, special interests or long arms from China/Taiwan texting or cell phoning the Mayor or Assembly members during the meeting or during their breaks.  Doncha think instead of a pat on the head  people of the borough are being “patted down” more than anything with this legislation?

The “slap” comes later in the resolution that says “the mayor from time to time may request, before the assembly meeting, that the clerk provide for pro and con sign-up sheets on an issue for members of the public to sign-up to speak to an item”.  Remember that pesky coal meeting where the mayor sailed this trial balloon in the name of keeping order and then later in the meeting cut short the testimony when he ran out of “pro-coal” testifiers? Yeah that one. That was a wet kite that wouldn’t sail even in a Palmer wind and it doesn’t sail any better now.  Requiring that the public prior to their testimony inform the assembly and the mayor just what their position is on an item they want to speak to is really beyond the pale.  There is just no sugar coating this. So really is the common thread in both these resolutions the mayor and whoever is pulling his strings trying to change the way the people of the valley VOTE and speak in the borough about their concerns and issues? We are flirting with some pretty basic rights of democracy here folks.  

Add to that pile of steaming hair on the carpet an unexplained cancellation yesterday of the quarterly Joint Assembly School Board meeting that was set for December 13th. The meeting was to feature well known and respected state economist Neil Fried speaking to the joint bodies after the current census and demographics on the economy  to be followed by a question and answer period.  Important stuff it would seem for elected officials to consider. Curiously the assembly meeting at 4pm the same day on changing procurement procedures wasn't cancelled. So it seems like ceremonial mayor Devilbiss has been pretty busy running with scissors this week.  We might get a glimpse of the haircut he delivers to the valley  at the assembly meeting Dec 6th

Seriously, how do some people sleep at night….

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A roll in the gravel with a vote...

After the last almost 1100 page assembly package everyone took off their dance shoes until Dec 6th.  Good to have a little break to give us a chance to look more closely at two big bites that will be on the assembly smorgasbord coming up then. 

First lets have a roll in the gravel
Introduced at the Nov 15th meeting ordinance 11-153 amends an existing ordinance governing the interim (temporary) materials district, conditional use permit to remove gravel and the definitions which include provisions of removal below the water table.  Down the rabbit hole we go back to 2005 when the assembly passed the bones to the ordinance now in place.  If memory serves, there was a fair amount of teeth gnashing and much hair pulling with that former assembly. Band aids were assigned in 2007 and 2008 including the ever popular “working group” with lingering concerns about reclamation and the pro and cons of allowing excavation into the seasonal high water table. To say this issue has been a hot political football would hardly do it justice.  But now with the self described veto proof mayor seated, the rabbit is getting jerked out of the hat for some fast action before the political landscape changes again. 

Stop the eye rolling.  Why should you care what some guy in the other end of the valley does with his rock pile? Other than being prepared to say a few new four letter words when that dump truck full of his gravel passes you on the Parks Hwy and redesigns your windshield by delivering a few straying pebbles?  There’s an easy answer and its two things that you and all your valley neighbors need for basic human survival. And no it’s not duct tape or finding the missing remote.  It is clean air and water. 

The ordinance before the assembly Dec 6th  if passed, will allow gravel operators to mine in our water table.  Is it a good idea to mine our drinking water?  I mean really what could go wrong?  You should expect there to be a big rush to push the yes button based on the “there is plenty of regulation” and “borough needs to be opened for business” rants from the usual suspects sitting at the horse shoe.  We already know how a few assembly members make that a regular “go to” argument on pretty much anything.  Expect to hear a bellow or two from at least one pumped out chest that “It’s done everywhere with no negatives,” and other similar nonsense. Except there are plenty of places that have banned it or are heavily regulated after bad outcomes and yes it should be one of our local government’s responsibilities to protect rights to clean water and air. 

Property rights=Water rights
People might be surprised to learn that it’s the minority of property owners in the Mat Su that actually own their property water rights. Land owners don’t have automatic rights to ground or surface water in Alaska.  You can get them by filing with the state and here is the handy dandy link to do so.   This only entitles a property owner to a claim of water quantity not quality.  Bet you could ask the next ten people if they own their water rights and you would be lucky to find that one person out of 100 has gone through the simple steps to file for their water rights.  You might also be surprised to learn that when it comes to regulation of drinking water or gravel mining, the state DEC only regulates public and community drinking water systems. It is a self test process and not any scary regulator in a white lab coat and clip board traveling all over the borough to check it out.  They do not regulate individual wells at ALL which remains much of the borough residents drinking water supply.  So what happens if the drinking water quality or quantity is compromised and who bears the burden of proof?  Yeah you got me. Proving your rights in this day and age doesn’t come cheap, and years of litigation with big time gravel operators who have deep financial resources and years of buying and hauling bottled water isn’t in many folks monthly budget.  Not having some sizeable bond or insurance in place by operators, if any amount was enough to protect landowners, gave past assemblies enough heart burn to kick the can further down the road for someone else to decide.   The other big sticking point in this bowl of gravel porridge is reclamation. Not your normal everyday subject of conversation so just what is it?  Basically it’s the rules of the road of rehabilitating the land after gravel is removed.  Without clear rules how is a gravel operator to know what is expected when reclamation is implemented and why do we care?  Well there are the obvious.  After the land is pealed back and the gravel removed, you have what most would agree is a huge impact both visually and environmentally.  It’s important that land be returned to the best possible condition for use after gravel mining is completed for dozens of reasons.  Expect to hear some assembly shout outs about the borough duplicating and exceeding reclamation standards and plans but the problem is the state has about two paragraphs addressing this.  If you don’t believe me put on your geek hat and see AS 27.19.020 reclamation standards and AS 27.19.030 reclamation plans.  A drive around the borough will tell you the state doesn’t give a dittle about reclamation or enforcement of what they do have on the books.  You have to ask yourself why this assembly loves the state rules instead of having their own other than providing somewhere else to point the finger at when things go terribly wrong. Contrary to some opinions this should not be about stopping gravel extraction in the borough, or being anti-development.  It should be about taking a pro-active approach when it comes to protecting our water table, dust control and land left for the next generation and not settling for another round of “that’s good enough”.  We should also keep in mind that although the state taxes and collects royalties it’s a pittance, and the Borough taxpayers get nothing. The last effort in 2005 for the borough to collect a materials tax to provide some mitigation funds for roads etc from the impact of mining went down in flames when the big check books came out from the industry to fight the initiative. According to APOC in just one 7 day period $41,000 was contributed by just 7 businesses and given to a committee whose job it was to kill the initiative. This is an industry not used to be told what to do.  And that was in 2005 when corporations hadn’t been deemed people by the Supreme Court.  This is all the more reason to have some sound protections for residents in place when it comes to digging big holes. We should have enough examples to draw from to have our own standards while supplying and benefiting from a great resource like gravel. Residents and the gravel industry should both be able to profit and still count on turning on the tap in every corner of the borough to good clean water period.  

So, you say you want to vote?
The other steaming bowl at the end of the buffet for the upcoming meeting is ordinance 11-157 regarding the definition of community councils brought forward by our ceremonial mayor.  This innocent looking ordinance could be a game changer to who the borough and state listen to speaking for communities.  With this legislation the mayor hopes to give community councils the ability to change up democracy Devilbiss Style expanding the definition to allow landowners (no matter where they reside) as well as residents the ability to be voting members in local community council matters.  This “expansion” much like some waists after turkey day has far reaching implications if passed.  Potentially one person, business or corporation that owns property in all of the 23 council areas could vote on council issues and even if they don’t live in the borough determine the community’s stance on a multitude of issues. One has to ask what the mayor has in mind with this legislation.  A return to when only white land-owning (perish the thought of women) could vote?  Sheesh…

These are two very big issues voters can’t not afford to not pay attention to.  It’s very possible that December 6th the assembly will experience a case of ground hog day and much like the tower ordinance take off all regulation for gravel extraction.  It’s also possible that we will slide back to the day of land barons that determined how all the peasants lived according to their rules by whose votes we count.  
Time to saddle up and have your voice heard or you might just wake up to the sounds of hoofs that have taken away all your rights to clean water, a peaceful existence and the right to vote on your community issues.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dancin with the stars assembly style...

Much like the wind there is no way to ever estimate the unpredictability of this supposed non partisan assembly's actions. Here's how Tuesday nights sock hop went. 

First the Foxtrot…

The Point MacKenzie SPUD got a unanimous thumbs up after some tweaking by those long arms from China again. There has been lots of discussion about what to allow and what is considered a compatible use as this document weaved its way through the port commission and to the assembly.  Items specifically off the list of allowable activities are adult businesses, alcoholic beverage sales, correctional community residential centers, race tracks and residential dwelling units.  Guess the message is NO adult fun along with libations followed by treatment while visiting a race track or moving in.  In conclusion, assembly member Arvin was able to add  amendments allowing light, medium and heavy manufacturing, natural resource extraction processing and refining and “workers camps for the term of the project".  It’s not specified if that's a 6 month or 6 year project and every effort to set a standard was voted down. But pretty sure there won’t be drink and dancing in camps for an undetermined amount of time. 

Then the Quick Step..

Or better known as VETO dance with the assembly.  It seems the mayor spent the afternoon getting some enlightenment from the finance director about the risk of lowering the bond rating the borough receives by taking this action.    Instead of saving tax payers money it could have the substantial reverse effect by costing taxpayers more in interest rates as we borrow money for the recently passed bonds for schools and roads.  Apparently this basic finance 101 fact had escaped the mayor and although he wasn't ready to pull his veto off the table he was putting it a little off to the side for the assembly to decide with this new information. A bit of a slow waltz ensued and another mayor veto was overturned as the mayor only found a lone Salmon in his bend of the stream.  

Then Slide…. 

The next dancing partner was the City of Wasilla which was there to seal the deal for the deed of borough land at the corner of Swanson and Crusey Street for a shiny new public library. It made an easy glide across the school board dance floor and made its way to the assembly floor looking like a shoe in for a perfect score of 10. But the pirouette fell flat on the assembly desk when assembly member Colver introduced a last minute lengthy amendment costume change.  A slow, passionate tango led by assembly member Colligan changed the music and gave direction to the manager to bring back language and comparisons for both a long term $1.00 a year lease and deed transfer.  The argument for the lease was preserving this high dollar asset for all borough residents and not setting precedence for other land grabs. And then there is the elephant on the dance floor with the continuing debate on the level of financial support libraries get from the borough and taxpayer which almost no one agrees on. Some dancers in the audience were clearly disappointed as they are forced to keep the music playing for another day.

And then..The Hand Jive

The real performance everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat for was Resolution 11-153 adding to the policy and procedures of the assembly and mayor referred to as the housekeeping portion of the recital.  The majority of the dancers stumbled on the amendment by assembly member Keogh to require members to tuck their cell phone away during assembly meetings thus prohibiting communication between, to and from the assembly members while they are sitting at the table doing the people’s business. New assembly member Colligan, not a fan of rules or regulation and fresh off new assembly training wondered just where “we are going to stop”.  Assembly member Salmon cut in right away by suggesting this part of the legislation “bordered on the ridiculous” and he didn’t need to be “ordained”  to be asked to put his cell phone away.  The long arm of China seemed a bit confused about some missing dance steps perhaps and inquired why this was even an issue. Awkwardly assembly member Arvin was informed that part of it was spurred on by his own action exposed at a prior assembly meeting while texting another member. Maybe it was too late, early or a gloomy day in China but the none too happy assembly member Arvin described the incident as unfortunate, but then forcefully responded by letting the body know he would text “whoever I want, and whenever I want”. Well then. That might be a dramatic and appealing way to register one’s opinion, but I think someone needs a nap.  We’re talking about doing the people’s business and as assembly member Keogh tried to explain to deaf ears that it’s problematic for a myriad of pretty apparent reasons.  Things like the public’s right to know, potential for abuse, and expectation of a fair balanced discussion and  the importance of establishing rules of decorum and cleaning up the way the assembly does business.  All dancers scurried off the dance floor except assembly member Keogh left doing a low light solo. 

And finally…the Rumba…

The end of the meeting brought conformation of the mayor’s choice for the planning commission, ex radio station owner John Klapperich.  Assembly member Salmon congratulated the City of Wasilla for having the best tasting water perhaps as a concession for not leaving the room with a library.  Colver mentioned it was the chairs job to run the meeting and he didn’t think they needed to get down in the weeds, referring to the attempt to check texting at the door and perhaps they could handle it much like the legislature (that by the way doesn’t operate under the open meetings act) and just bring donuts when the phone or text goes off. So there you have it.  No citizen voice pie for you.  You’ll have to settle for donuts.

About the entire dance performance most could take.  But you can count on their being another one especially after all the chaperones are dismissed and clearly there aren’t enough now.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Citizen Voice Pie...

Tasty morsels of assembly pie are sometimes buried down near the bottom and in some cases items won't make it in until right before the final crust is tucked on with those fancy edges and popped in the oven. On tomorrow night's assembly agenda is Resolution 11-153 that is presented as a bit of housekeeping brought forward from legislation passed earlier this year regarding policy and procedures of the assembly and mayor.  

The resolution is using the assembly whisk broom to sweep up and insert another "whereas clause" because we know resolutions can never have enough of those. This one makes it clear that this current resolution supersedes all prior resolutions until well ...the next time to supersede. Another item to go in the dustpan is removal of language from a time when audience participation occurred after the consent agenda and with the new sheriff and posse in town that pretty much occurs now before the consent agenda with no set time so there is no reason to keep any unneeded public comment clogging up the assembly water wheel. 

Couple of bouncing balls to keep your eye on tomorrow night.  Assembly member Keogh has introduced an amendment to be added to the legislation (D) During meetings, use of laptop computers, cell phones or other mobile communication devices by assembly members and the mayor to communicate with a person or entity is prohibited.  And it's not because the assemblyman isn't a fan of technology.  

Right before Alaska was wrapped tight around the wheel of the Veco scandal there was a now famous speech from former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz  that said in part  "this is our floor. No telephone call is supposed to change what we're doing.  No lobbyist is suppose to peer over the railing and tell us to change our mind.  It never should happen"  and oh boy was he right. The light came on and a few legislators ended up with new   undesirable forwarding address.   

In the borough we are without the rail and a few less lobbyists but there was an assembly meeting not long ago that might have spurred assembly member Keogh to attempt to include this amendment now.  That meeting during an at ease called by the mayor one assembly member from his seat in China asked another member seated at the table to "return his text". Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the public his teleconferenced call was still coming in loud and clear. It gave everyone pause then and should now. So just what was going on beyond the public venue? It became abundantly clear that technology has rushed past legislation and this amendment is an attempt to correct that. It is to ensure that all communication, to, from Assembly members while the Assembly members are sitting at the table is known to the public. Hopefully even the most ethically challenged will see the sense in adopting this policy for the mayor and assembly.  If it does give a member pause well then that should give voters pause. Surely we can put down our electronic leashes long enough to do the people's business in a transparent way.  

What else might be added to the "pie" before its popped in the oven in the name of house-keeping or efficiency we won't know until tomorrow night.  Providing opportunity for the public to weigh in doesn't seem to be a big priority for some members of this assembly and it might make some "boiling mad". It is also possible some additional language cranking down on that pesky public comment period even more might be introduced.  Not allowing the public to weigh in might work well to further political or ideological agendas, but its a costly mistake in so many ways.  We'll save that soap box for another post.  Pretty clear that opportunity will present itself all too frequently. 

If you can't convince yourself that throwing on your warmest puffy jacket to attend tomorrow's MSB assembly meeting starting at 6pm you can always tune in to Radio Free Palmer who will be streaming it. At least you will be able to hear what's going in the pie.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"VETO" Latin for forbid...

MSB assembly meeting Tuesday is another big fat VETO from our borough ceremonial mayor. This time the wrath of the veto pen is an ordinance that was passed by that other assembly and sponsored by assembly member Halter.  But as we know that other assembly is out the swinging door and now the mayor has a new full set of back up dancers. 

So what is the ordinance that has gotten the mayor's crown knocked a little sideways so that he wants yet another “do over”? Well it's the borough residents’ insurance fund in case of a natural disaster. You know the cash that is waiting when Mother Nature decides to get our attention without a reservation.  Not that we have many of those being a earth-quake, wind, volcano free zone and all. Yeah no chance of any or those leading to any financial, environmental or human losses. 

The adopted ordinance raises the disaster reserve from $750,000.00 to $1,250.000.  That's the money the borough holds under lock and key just in case a local catastrophe occurs. That means the borough has ready cash to come to the aid of citizen's instead of waiting for someone's helicopter to warm up to check it out and cut loose the state or fed pocketbook. If they do. Of course we all know that's a lightning quick process right?  

Apparently the mayor is convinced that the borough already tries to "anticipate" disaster and the lower limit is good enough. Heck, we don't need any extra cash if he's wrong. Him being a carrot farmer and all with expertise and a P.H.D. in disasters. Oh and in his memo to the clerk his description of disasters are "man made or natural" with a pair of parenthesis around "or supernatural for that matter".  Holy cow bat man!   I see dead people. 

Our mayor is confident that the borough "has insurance".  Something we should note a third of Alaskans don’t enjoy.  Those of us that do have insurance all know how easy that claim and reimbursement thingy is and how insurance companies have a history especially of late, of coughing up cash like a cat with a hairball.  Plus our ceremonial mayor has complete confidence in a "can do" attitude that lets him pull the Scarlet O'Hara “I just can't think about that today I'll think about it tomorrow” card out of his deck and bet that communities will “deal with issues as they arise".  

But now we get to the soggy patty of beef on the issue. 

Mayor Devilbiss advises that he has "experts" although he doesn't identify them, tell him that having a bigger reserve for disasters is an excess and is just another case of ....Wait for it.  "Over Taxation".  

Ah.  The real burr in the saddle of this carrot farmer.  We can't be filling the coffers with any tax money.  No sir.  Even if it’s a savings for that disaster our ceremonial mayor can see isn't coming.

Time to get out your Ouija board and make sure there are enough roots in the cellar.