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Monday, February 27, 2012

FACTS? WHO NEEDS 'EM?




The famous quote that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts” set the tone for the  Assembly work session last week.  Even though the ceremonial Mayor cancelled respected state economist Neil Fried’s scheduled appearance in December, Mr. Fried was here last week for the first time ever speaking to the Mat Su Borough Assembly and a packed house. And his facts shoulda left some marks like a good towel snapping in a locker room on most of the good ol boys at the horseshoe.

That’s because after a couple years of a nonstop tirade from the majority of Assembly members about the financial sky falling in the Borough with that tired “closed for business” mantra was laid to rest. The data is clear-IT ISN’T and more importantly IT HASN’T BEEN. Mr. Fried presented the evidence that the Mat Su version of “Chicken Little” should never have had a perch here.

Big fat FACTS like:
¨      The Borough, unlike every other area of Alaska has seen a balanced employment growth in every sector from 2000-2010. 
¨      The second highest percentage of the Alaskan work force on the slope is folks from the valley. 
¨      Real Estate is still robust and hasn’t changed that much since 2007.
¨      It’s not the 80’s again! Foreclosures are but a blip in the radar in comparison to everywhere else.

Now we all know money doesn’t go as far as it used to for us here in the valley and nationwide.  But the reason for that can be almost entirely tied to the cost of basic goods.  A big chunk of that expense is fuel.  But are the fuel suppliers making any less? Nope.  Wages just aren’t keeping up with inflation except for the very few. And if you notice the majority of members of this Assembly aren’t about to do a thing about that. In fact, they are chomping at the bit to cut more jobs, especially if they are union jobs. 
We could go on and on but if you missed it you should hear it for yourself because the recording can be found at the Radio Free Palmer website.  Find out for yourself what the real state of the Mat Su Borough economy is and not what a bunch of loud voices have been telling you it is.  Another famous quote comes to mind; “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”  Following Fried’s talk is one by Alaska Gas Line expert Larry Persily and well worth the listen as well.

No wonder they think things are as bad as it was in the 80’s. 

Instead of continuing down a road of improving the Borough through endorsement of solid planning for quality communities and support for small business the ceremonial Mayor and his veto proof Assembly continue to walk us..no leap us back to the past. They are spending their time passing resolutions in support of Sharia law and the Cordova Coal Party of 1911 among other useless resolutions so aptly described by Doogan as “letters to themselves” about things that do nothing to move the Borough forward.
The important take away is what many folks have been saying for a couple of years.  There are people sitting at the table making decisions based on their own interest or their party’s ideology and not what the facts call for.  Organized groups such as the Mat Su Business Alliance and Conservative Patriots have been promoting this discord and helping elect office holders with loud voices that have no plan to act in the best interest of the rest of us. With that voice this misguided group has managed to eliminate any tower ordinance for the Borough, allowed for gravel extraction into the water table, eliminated the land use permit and if they have their way again they will completely gut the subdivision code at a special Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 1pm in Assembly Chambers. And you can be sure as soon as all the damage is done (think about the national debt the previous administration left the current one) and the handful of their supporters are in place to reap the benefits they will ride out of town on the next dust cloud.

The Conductor..

Guiding this train wreck is legislation recreating the subdivision code orchestrated by Assemblyman Colver, and he has plenty of backup singers on the Assembly. They will be working to adopt the latest draft of what was handed to them and written by the Mat Su Business Alliance a for profit corporation of invisible faces. By comparison, in 2010 the then sitting Assembly adopted the Matanuska Borough Economic Development Strategic Plan drafted by a working group of citizens and business people that set aside personal agendas and came together for a good roadmap to the future for the Borough. Of course it was adopted by that other Assembly which makes it ripe for throwing in the nearest dumpster by the current Assembly.  There is nothing in the plan that instructs one of the top strategies to rewrite or roll back Title 27. What it speaks to is the need to provide business certainty.  What it speaks to is building a capacity to conduct economic development in the Borough by marketing, business advocacy and infrastructure improvements. What it speaks to is focusing on quality development to improve the appearance (our current ceremonial Mayor vetoed the last junk ordinance) of the Borough.   What it speaks to is the “threats” of unmanaged growth. We should not be making up new goals or be rewarding a few that bought cheap property and want to develop it on the backs of others.
The fact that the upcoming Assembly meeting is being held in the middle of the day (again Tuesday Feb 28th @ 1pm) about such an important subject pretty much guarantees it will be rammed through. Almost like it’s part of the plan doncha think?

Doubt you’ll have trouble finding a seat to watch.  But you still have time to let your voice be heard by contacting Assembly members by phone or email and tell them to keep their mitts of Title 27 and tell Mr. Colver to stop “colverizing” one of the best guides for subdivision development we have.




Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just In Case You Thought It Couldn’t Get Much Worse


Shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that by a vote of 6-1 your Assembly voted to adopt an inferior and what might just prove to be dangerous Ethics Code, in what appears to be a continuing quest to set bad policy. A mish mash of amendments were offered largely by just two members, Mr. Colver and Mr. Arvin, who actually made his first physical appearance in Assembly chambers in months. Less shocking should be that the majority of this Assembly who are marching in lockstep with your ceremonial Mayor chose to blatantly ignore all the public input from years of public testimony and diligent work by the Ethics board.  They turned a blind eye to correspondence by current and past members of the ethics board, and past Assembly members who strongly suggested that the Ethics board take the opportunity to craft a model code for the Borough. Citizen Lobbyist will revisit this when the code that was adopted at the special meeting is available (along with the audio file) from the Borough. Suffice it to say the weakening of this code is shameful and does not serve our Borough well, although it is pretty easy to see that it is exactly what those that voted for it had in mind. Precious nuggets such as striking “personal interest” out of the code and making sure “financial interest” was increased from $200.00 to $1,000.  The code on the books before this charade, stipulated $50 for the financial interest benchmark.  Another classic case of “always follow the money.” You can look forward to a full report soon.  Hopefully it will help you at the voting booth in October.

Assembly “We Really Do Work” Session-Tues/Feb 21st 3:30pm-
Although listening isn’t what we would call a strong suit of this Assembly, they have asked to hear from two respected and prominent speakers to start their meeting day early. Scheduled to speak is State Economist Neil Fried who often shares growth and labor area statistics, demography and trends to groups all over the state, and respected Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, Larry Persily. Who better to listen to about the real state of our local economy?  You know people who are actually educated and qualified to give us the real scoop.  Our guess is that the State Economist actually has factual evidence that our Borough is doing well and is and has been open for business all along.  The ceremonial mayor and Assembly could learn much about innumerable issues if they can set aside their personal and political agenda’s long enough to do so.  A tall order for a majority of our Assembly and our Mayor it seems.  You should be there to listen as well. Somewhere sandwiched in there will be a discussion on transit services that the Mayor has already shared he doesn’t feel the love for taking us up to the regularly scheduled meeting fun at 6pm.

Assembly “you can never have too much fun” Meeting
Highlights of the 950 page packet for this meeting contain the bounced back resolution in support of the legislation pending in Juneau this session establishing a “Susitna State Forrest”.  The assembly wanted more information last meeting on this because it’s not as easy to understand as say Sharia Law is.  So back it comes.
Public Hearings will be offered for as much as you can cram in to talk about in three minutes on Houston and Willow area historic plans, numerous natural gas and local road improvement projects, donations to the Borough animal shelter, acceptance of monies from the state to fund transit planning and fed money for additional share a vans (that might get a kick to the curb earlier in the special meeting consistent with previous meetings actions and the will of the ceremonial Mayor) and approval, acceptance and appropriation of $591,800 community revenue sharing again from the state for 22 community councils should their projects qualify.  An additional resolution includes approving financial software that enhances online paying options. This would bring our Borough that is badly behind in technology into this century.  At about $400,000, not cheap but a bargain if you live in Big Lake, Willow, Talkeetna or beyond Sutton and want to pay for your business license, pool pass, library fees along with a host of other things online. Another resolution supports the South Big Lake Road re-alignment phase 2 that has been a high priority of residents in that area. Residents and others have long experienced increased dangerous conditions on a twisted hot mess of a road that is only getting worse as the area grows and connects up with port traffic.


Who Needs Water? Duh!
In a little de’ja vu action Resolution 12-023 is being brought forward to allow the Assembly members a second chance to do right by the 22,000 water well owners in the valley and vote to authorize a public awareness campaign by way of adding information to the borough website, press release and public service accouncments all done by existing borough staff.  Reassurance from the gravel industry that got the blessing from the Assembly to drill into our water table hardly offers protection to landowners that find out they have no assurance of water rights without filing with the state.  The gravel industry, if they really support doing the “right thing” should be at the table testifying for this water rights campaign too. While we should all be supporting correcting the dangerous road connections in our communities we should also be waving the flags of support for this resolution that for a measly $1,000 of taxpayer money authorizes the manager to establish the water rights public awareness campaign. The ceremonial Mayor spent somewhere in the area of $3,000 on a meager business owner survey mail out of which one side was totally blank without Assembly approval.  Let’s hope Assembly members hold the “we’re not everyone’s mother” remarks and how “hideous” this all is and just allow it to go forward.  If not we should be asking who they are protecting huh? 

Corporations should not buy elections
Lastly and not without pause, Resolution 12-024 supporting adoption of House Bill No 244 before the legislature that prohibits corporations from contributing to and influencing elections is up for vote.  The bill amends state law that allows corporations to be recognized as persons. The sponsor statement for the house bill can be found here.  Government bodies and states all over the country are passing such legislation recognizing the dangerous implications for all elections.  It just won’t pass the red face test for those that voted to support the bill on Sharia law and other Borough resolutions that don’t really pertain to the Borough and vote against this one that would protect our state and local elections.  And if they choose to not support this resolution it will tell you a lot about who they are as well as where their support comes from. 

That’s the line up of the fun for this Tuesday.  You should either be putting on your spring coat and being there yourself, listening to the Radio Free Palmer live stream it or at least weighing in with the Assembly before hand on your thoughts by the links provided to the right. 

Lack of public participation and feedback is what keeps the door ajar for serious skullduggery that at some point you won’t be able to ignore because it will affect you.  Besides the ceremonial Mayor and some Assembly members seem to have the market on “what’s best for us” corner and are keeping the seat warm on paying no attention to all but a few.




Monday, February 13, 2012

AND SO THE WHEEL TURNS....



Time’s a wasting to report on last week’s Assembly meeting and get you up to speed on a series of meetings that are headed our way possibly like a dark storm cloud.  So, hang on, take notes and weigh in, cuz here we go on the next roller coaster ride.

For your attendance score card; it was a full table at the  horse shoe at the Feb 7th Assembly meeting except for Mr. Halter who was excused for a big sled dog race.  Assemblyman Arvin was in his standard mode of participation, attending via teleconference.  We can’t recall what Mr. Arvin looks like other than a big speaker in the corner of the room.


SCHOOL BONDS ARE ROLLIN OUT…
The School District report, delivered by Dr. Paramo contained the good news that the state has pre-approved projects for approximately $169 million dollars worth of bonds as part of the $215 million voters supported last fall.  It appears the School District and Borough are communicating well so far on this big buffet of projects that will allow the bonds to be sold and line up a couple of years of work on the long list of projects. Bond projects can be found at the district website.


TAXPAYER EXPLOITATION AGAIN & WHO NEEDS ETHICS
The start of the Assembly meeting brought forward discussion on the upcoming Borough Ethic’s code set for a special meeting this Thursday/Feb 16th at 4pm.  The original scheduled time was at 6pm. However,  Assemblyman Colver who is still seeking some support for his “Colverization” (our new word  for your dictionary) of the current, albeit “the bad road & taxpayer exploitation act” subdivision code would like to be able to attend the Local Service Area Advisory board the same evening to obtain their support for his “Colverization” of the subdivision code. Reportedly and for good reason members of this board are none too happy about proposed changes in our current subdivision code proposed by Mr. Colver. Changes that your citizen lobbyist has referred to here as the “Bad road and taxpayer exploitation act”. An ordinance change that could bring serial waivers (no, not cereal wafers) back to their road service areas, expand Borough land sales to properties with no road access etc. and in our opinion create not only more headaches but possible serious financial ramifications to the service areas they represent and in the end taxpayers (you know you and me).  The ceremonial Mayor would like to attend this meeting as well and probably defend his desire to allow road service areas to opt out of being a road service area at all.  Assemblyman Arvin (cue visualization of speaker box in the corner) chimed in that during the now scheduled 4pm Feb 16th special ethics meeting he was planning to request the body “consider the value in creating a board or committee to give feedback” on ethics. Isn’t that what the Ethics Board is for?    After two years of work, the Ethics Board delivered a rewrite to the Assembly in January 2011, along with mountains of testimony during the Board’s public hearings.  That is hardly a lack of “feedback.”  We would suggest that perhaps another punt to give it the opportunity to get it right with a model code is what is needed.  The state is examining parts of its own ethics code this session and has bills in the Senate and House on the move. The importance of taking this opportunity to craft a strong independent ethics code cannot be understated. We will just have to see what the man in the speaker box has in mind for “creating feedback” and the agreed upon process by the Assembly to do so.  


CEREMONIAL MAYOR STRIKES AGAIN
The changes to code for the Aviation Board that allows the Mayor to be “flexible” with appointments ironically just flew as if on its own wings through this Assembly meeting with a vote of 6-1 in favor of the ceremonial Mayor’s ordinance.  The long term consequences of loading the board with political appointments are such a disservice to the Borough we hardly know where to start. There were absolutely no good arguments for making this change other than the one that wasn’t voiced when it was approved. The change in code allowed the two applicants brought forth by the ceremonial Mayor that weren’t qualified at the start of the meeting according to the current code to now by magic be perfect with the new “flexibility” the Mayor enjoys with this board now. That’s right they were confirmed at the same meeting as the changes were made. Blinding coincidence huh? Cue your furrowed brow.


BONUS POINTS
As another Assembly meeting bonus for the Mayor and empire builders sitting alongside him, the ordinance brought forth to change who can cancel calendared joint meetings of the Assembly and School Board ended up in the ceremonial Mayor’s favor again with a little help from his deputy Mayor Mr. Arvin. All the language that had been brought forward to clarify that the Mayor could only act to cancel in case of emergency or lack of quorums was cancelled out itself with new language added allowing the ceremonial Mayor or School Board President the power to cancel meetings pretty much on a whim. That apparently is how 6 of the 7 Assembly members interpret how democracy works to just hand the gavel to one guy.   Preferably their guy.

Need more or has your acid reflux kicked in enough for this report?


THE FUTURE; BE THERE
There is plenty to weigh in on coming up.  Including the special meeting on Ethics @4pm this Thursday which might be short and sweet but hugely important none the less. An Assembly work session Feb 21st starting at 3:30pm (before the normal 6pm assembly meeting) includes a presentation from respected state economist Neil Fried on the Borough economy and demography, transit services and presentation from Larry Persily on the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Project.  Both presenters are excellent in their fields, interesting and well worth putting on your radar. Since consideration of the facts doesn’t seem to be a strong point with some Assembly members let’s hope this group listens to half of what they have to say.  As far as the transit services component in this meeting, expect the Mayor to bring something forward to pull the plug on the agreement worked on for years with prior Assemblies for a regional transit authority between the Borough and Municipality of Anchorage.  That pesky public wanting services again.

So there you have it.  Citizen Lobbyist wishes it were made up but yet it’s real.  You have a veto proof Assembly that some of which would sell their grandmother to a Somali Pirate if he claimed he was from a corporation. 
How’s it working for you so far?  Whenever you are confused as to why the majority of this assembly seems to be doing something that makes no sense or is crazy, you really need to come back to this. The goal of this ceremonial mayor and some members of this assembly is not good governance. The goal is to make governing only done for and by a select few.  Pure and simple.    


Once again. It can’t be said enough so we will say it again.
Elections matter people.  They really do.