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Friday, July 20, 2012

THE SUMMER HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN...




An already stuffy hot night at the assembly meeting got a bit more steamy when the top almost came off one tea pot that has just become used to getting his way. 

So pull up a chair while we report on what you missed or try to unwind what you might have heard that left your ears bleeding.  In this tardy summer heat you might want to consider a nice ice tea (of the long island sort) to dull the pain while you read this rather long report on this ongoing Monty Python play they call governing the borough.

CITIES SERVE UP REPORTS

          The City of Palmer announced it has tweaked its sales tax to make it more "business friendly', eliminated some dated language from the city charter and accepted a voters initiative to place a question to the voters on the city October ballot to determine if Palmer will become the first Smoke Free Community in the valley.

          The City of Wasilla handed out praise for the meeting of stakeholders to explore a regional emergency dispatch center that Assemblyman Colligan managed to lasso a big chunk of taxpayer money to study.  The city also patted their own back for hosting a successful annual   4th of July parade.  No mention though of the so far failed proposal being kicked around for a increase in sales tax for COW some of what was to be directed to the new on hold library. 

          The City of Houston handed out thanks for the grant funding the borough provided for the Zero Lake parking lot and had a shout out for support of the Moose Federation. 

The Ceremonial Borough Mayor served up his own thanks to Houston that hosted the last meeting of the borough and city mayors.  We should maybe wonder what happened to the joint meetings between the City of Anchorage Assembly with our own Borough Assembly of days past?  Seems like with all this angst about where to park a shiny new ferry on the other side of the pond might invite some dialog huh?

WHAT WE HAVE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

The sparsely attended Joint School Board-Assembly Committee Meeting that occurred earlier this week focused mainly on that old reliable breakdown in communication issue.  The districts concern was explained as a lack of information from the borough regarding progress on the mega school bond projects contained in the 5 year bond voters passed last fall. The borough is the sole project manager and central piggy bank for the long laundry list of projects and land acquisition.  The district described it as being left "on the side line of what's going on the field". In addition to the bonds there is a page full of projects and procurements that need to be completed with money in grants passed through the borough via special legislative kisses (appropriations), and even though it has been several months since the end of the session the district isn't getting answers as to the status of those projects and supplies either. The questions falling at the feet of the district from parents, teachers, boosters and community members and are getting louder and with school just around the corner it is only going to escalate.  Everyone is aware that there are projects across the district underway or on the plate making the district anxious to get the problem solved. The district has gotten up to speed in keeping the public informed on financial matters along with much more community outreach helped by a new website design and online registration is in full swing.  With several new programs, cyber learning opportunities etc. (as well as the launch of a new Alaska Middle College School) it is difficult for the district to continue that standard without cooperation from the borough.  There was no real finger pointing at any one person but the district was serious about finding a remedy and fast.

For those of you not keeping track Assemblyman Colver termed out after six years on the assembly, bounced over to the school board for a term then boomeranged back to the assembly where he is now seeking yet another term and if elected and will likely serve until termed out once again. You would think after spending that many years on both bodies Mr. Colver, who didn't vote for the bonds by the way, would have had enough practice to get this communication problem ferreted out.  Unless of course, perhaps Mr. Colver is the problem?  He did suggest a webpage be built to document the progress and current expectations for completion of the projects with some pictures of the progress being made.  The district offered to build and host the webpage staffed by some talented student tech interns as soon as the info is received.  So put that in your hope for the best and "wait and see file". 


NEW LONG TERM RESIDENTIAL FACILITY YOU DONT WANT A ROOM IN OPENS

Manager Moosey delivered what most would consider good news (unless it was about you) that the first "guests" (ie: inmates) have been arriving at the brand new and much discussed Goose Creek Prison with many more on the way.  It was a pretty rocky road getting that prison built and located in what some would argue is too far away from everything.  But with that water under the bridge (and a fancy small water treatment plant) the top priority is filling it with inmates and prison personnel. If it is the huge economic engine some have promised or the social drain and new problem child for the borough is yet to be seen, but be assured the doors are clanging shut and the "open for business" sign is being lit up.   


MORE FAIRY DUST FOR THE PESKY FERRY

Some things are just as hard to explain as Mitt Romney's missing tax returns.

But since we are out in the port neighborhood talking about the prison why not jump into the topic de jour of the meeting- our big new fancy ferry that is sitting at a dock in Southeast ringing up the bills now that the feds have officially signed the birth certificate for the boroughs new bouncing baby.  Meanwhile the hand wringing continues about "what to do, what to do" at every meeting of the assembly. 

Suffering from an apparent memory lapse on just what they instructed the manager to do last time they were flailing their arms screaming about the accruing costs to taxpayers of the ferry, the wild west legislating cowboys took it up again with two resolutions on the agenda.  One quickly passed authorizing another $66,970.63 out of the budget for one month of financial responsibility for the ferry.  The second one brought forth by Assemblyman Salmon authorizing the manager to list the vessel on the federal register and with a ship broker disappeared in vapors.  Apparently the arthritis has set in from the ongoing finger pointing that some members of the assembly have been enthusiastically participating in and who have now turned their efforts to giving the manager a case of whiplash. 

Poor Manager Moosey.  This mega problem was dumped in his lap practically before he got his coat off the first day of work at the borough a year ago. He has been slowly treated like the lamb being led to the slaughter for it.  Each meeting he has to sort out the rants and raves and go down a different path directed by the noisiest of assembly members, which normally is Mr. Arvin speaking from his perch in China or Mr. Colligan red faced and invoking his favorite "hairball" and "hideous" quips. 

Up to this point the howling direction to stop the money hemmorhage has been pointing to work something out with the Fed's. However, the borough will owe a bundle of money if they sell it or use it for other than the intended purpose of operating a ferry

A few meetings ago the noise from the voice in China, Mr Arvin started strongly questioning if the M/V Susitna should be sailed up here (a $125,000 proposition) and be beached at the port.  This idea was highly discouraged by feedback from the ship builder and the handsomely paid ferry consultant, maybe having seen what shape things end up in storage yards.    Undaunted and supported by a recent resolution from the Port Commission and testimony of one member Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction (rumored now to be a CIRI company) Arvin insisted a study be done toute suite. You know, a search for another answer that is more suited to the solution perhaps he now wants. Putting the manager on the spot for a cost and timeline of a vaguely described report from an unknown provider was hesitantly estimated at $20,000-$60,000 and possibly 6 weeks in getting, but that the manager wanted the assembly to know doing that was their decision. 

Working off their previous instructions the manager may have struck an agreement with the FTA (federal agency) to let the borough dump the ferry via the register and that the sale price would likely pay off the boroughs obligation to the feds. After all isn't that what the conservatives of the assembly wanted last meeting?  Turns out not so much.  The member speaking from China quickly gathered support from the usual assembly members and convined them to put off trying to sell it on the register until this new STUDY is done.  The assembly can take it up at their September 21st meeting.  A quick dance of the calculator tells us that the costs of mining for the answer some powerful members of the assembly and port commission want will at the least include another nearly $68,000 portage, an estimated $125,000 to get it up here to keep the empty port terminal company. Then there is the  $20,000-$60,000 for a study not including the cost of staff time to find and put through procurements to get the study started and who knows what else. And all the while it stays off the federal registry for a likely buyer.  Genius huh?  If you just cannot get enough of all things ferry we have covered it pretty well in earlier posts and you can be sure it will be back next meeting in preparation and the only question is whether Mr. Manager will come prepared wearing a neck brace for yet another whiplash in direction from the assembly.


MESSING WITH YOUR VOTE AGAIN...

No silent sufferer of things not going his way, Assemblyman Colligan brought forth a resolution to add an advisory question on the October ballot to move all borough elections to the same date in November. The same month that state and national elections are held would make for one big happy Election Day. Convinced that it would be just the ticket to spark a much larger voter turnout and having the marching orders of the local tea party tucked under his arm he brought it forth despite the fact that it was voted down by the assembly earlier this year. Most elected officials would have the good sense to let it go, but Colligan didn't. Apparently his patriarchal world view wouldn't let him. 

Introduced as a resolution it gives little time for a public response that seemingly and increasingly has become the strategy. But this time enough assembly members got it. Knowing this did not come to the assembly by citizen initiative, Assemblyman Salmon breaking with usual ranks was first out of the chute to speak out in opposition.  He reasoned that that it was not the government’s job to wonder if the people should vote on things or should they create an idea in their mind of what they should vote on. Makes sense to us.  Assemblyman Keogh commented about the estimated $133,000 costs for equipment (since using the state equipment would no longer be possible with side by side elections) that could climb even higher by the need to find, hire and train more election workers. Assemblyman Halter said he worried that local concerns would get mired in the mix of state and national election noise. Assemblyman Colver added that he thought ownership of our own election time serves ground roots democracy better and had the same concerns as Halter about losing local focus.

Taking the undaunted route Assemblyman Colligan quickly amended his own resolution to move the borough election to occur the same day in April as Anchorage elections. That started the questions flying about costs, employees and about adjustments to terms of office. Mr. Colver, often the man wearing the punting shoe successfully postponed action on this until the next meeting August 7th.  More questions that will be seeking answers and squeezing staff time. We are hoping Mr. Colligan's pending legislation to move the election date to match neighboring Anchorage that there is no intention of having their election officials keep track of borough ballots since that doesn't seem to be Anchorage’s strong suit lately.

TRANSITING HATCHER PASS  ALL ABOARD?

Nothing like a 25 plus year in progress project making a move forward with found money to bring out the supporting crowd.  In this case it was an element in the ongoing project in the Hatcher Pass Nordic Ski area that so far with $2,575,973 in federal money, $53,698 in state funds and $797, 745 in borough funds has resulted in a 4,900 foot access road, parking lot and trailhead.  A transit center and bus accommodations were originally presented as an option not selected when the project ran short on funds. Turns out the borough was alerted by those pesky fed's that building a "transit center" or (8 foot unheated hut) wasn't optional but part of the money that had already been accepted and spent as a grant. Assemblyman Colver, (visualize donned in his cape) with a long history of successfully asking for just "a little more money" for things like expanded charter schools and building additions happily stepped from behind the curtain.  Colver who masterfully lined up undeniable support (Olympic skiers, top rated coaches, tourist supporters and even one mayor) presented his plan to move the money beans around to not only fund the transit center (about $400,000) but include other things so the facility can be used for public functions such as a warming and ski tuning area for local, state and maybe national Nordic events, a community center for council meetings for the Fishhook Community Council (which threw in $20,000 from revenue sharing), meetings and other social events and gatherings .  The estimated total budget with some basic design from borough public works set at $893,000. 

There had been some worries circulating about the additional funds and how they would affect current trail work by non-profits particularly in the Big Lake and Willow areas that although supportive have their own critical needs.  Both Assemblymen Halter and Salmon were assured that support via grant from the borough would not be affected.  To ease some concerns by Halter and Keogh about leaving the bed tax account nearly drained was promised to be partly rectified by some more money beans moved and the project was approved by a 6-1 vote. Assemblyman Woods the lone no vote still had concerns as to the cost of managing the facility. Interesting since Palmer will likely benefit greatly by the economic boost it provides. 

Although the process was messy which has become the norm for what we find Mr. Colver involved in, and even though there have been some questionable decisions made in the past, the lovers of Hatcher Pass seem to have this new scope right.  This is just the type of economic engine that can reward the borough's small business operators and take advantage of the huge opportunity of drawing a very profitable base of folks to recreate in Hatcher Pass leaving places like Kincaid Park in Anchorage in the rear view mirror.  Having said that we should not let our eye get off the ball as this project and future development moves forward.  Empire builders with or without a cape need to stick to what they say the plan is, who it is being built in mind for and what the costs will be as it marches up the trail.  Let's hope that this development does not become the scotch tape and bailing wire, glorified ATCO trailer and portable building project. We still have too many of those sitting next to schools trying to educate kids in.

REFRESH YOUR DRINK AND GRAB A SNACK THERE’S MORE…

And in order to prevent heads exploding we will avoid what could be a lengthy explanation of what happened when the assembly tackled accepting “for sale” properties from property owners. For the most part located in the northwest part of the borough. (about 60 less than the huge numbers the ceremonial mayor has at times claimed the borough was making homeless) owners of the list haven't been paying their property tax bill.  Several came through at zero hour to avoid foreclosure by satisfying the debt  and getting current on what was owed. There is much to debate on how to assist those that are struggling and even after giving years of grace to some owners last year a number still didn't catch up. So far this assembly has done what all others have done to fix a continued problem which is cherry picking a few to give another year to catch up which clearly in most cases is not the answer. We will leave it for now just saying there was testimony that you can listen for yourself preserved on the podcast at Radio Free Palmer of the testimony and how your leaders handled it. 


The ice in your drink of choice has probably melted by now and the chance of sun hopefully is calling us to step away from the madness and refuse to give in to a temptation of a two part post. We will resist wading in too far into the fun that was had with the resolution Mr. Colligan brought forth casting disdain on the voter’s initiative on the state ballot concerning Alaska Coastal Management. Suffice it to say he sees conspiracies. Others saw possible APOC issues but were ruled out by the attorney.

Since he is busy most of the time using facilities in China, Mr Arvin brought forth a list of increases you can expect on fees for use of borough facilities.  What a guy. You can always seem to count on his vote to lessen the burden on businesses real or perceived and increase the burden on the people.

In a last bit of good news, the folks in Big Lake will finally get to roll up their sleeves and utilize the $250,000 in grant monies from the legislature to conduct a community impact study.  With the railroad plans to roar through, proximity to the port, and a major truck route still proposed to divide the community this step might answer some questions on how the people that live there will plan and prepare for the challenges.  Likely sooner than later the highly organized involvement by some residents to become the fourth city in the borough will once again go to the local voters.  As you might expect there is no shortage of opinions of how that should go.

WHAT’S UP IN THE NOT SO HOT MONTH OF AUGUST?

More fun can be had as we head into the next assembly meeting August 7th with others on the schedule for August 9th and 10th just in case the tea pot boils over, and some extra time is needed to decide what to serve up on the ballot coming to you in the October election. Speaking of elections there is one more week to pick up, fill out and return packets to file for office for 3 seats on the assembly, 2 on the school board and that of the ceremonial mayor for which you don’t have to grow carrots to file. In addition there are vacancies coming up for the same election on the Wasilla and Palmer City Councils. We only report it like we see it but we all have to live with the consequences of our political choices or inactions. 

At least keep yourself and your neighbor informed by tuning into Radio Free Palmer which has some snazzy new programming you can find all about on the site.  Your citizen lobbyist finding the need to have an extra day to let things soak in has now made the move to the live radio showtime (by radio dial or streaming) on Thursday mornings in the 8a-9a spot with a recorded replay of the show at the drive time later the same day between 5-6pm.  Financial support by underwriting of the segment and huge and vocal encouragement keeps us all going doing our best to make a community that thinks public involvement is the grease that really keeps the wheel turning.

Do your part pay attention and pass this on to someone that might not be that should. 


Thursday, July 12, 2012

NOW FOR A WASILLA REPORT




More than a few folks are making note of what's going on at a local governing level. And apparently not all the fun is at the assembly meetings! 


The following article was submitted for us to post as a take on the Monday Wasilla City Council Meeting by a...


Exclusive Citizen Lobbyist Reporter Reports....



There was plenty of LoL stuff Monday night (7/9) at the City Council's nearly 4 hour meeting.  It was a night to remember for LoL.

The first waah came from Council Member Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (CSL), Ms. Wannabe Mayor, during approval of the agenda.  She had put something on the no-brainer agenda, aka the "consent agenda".  (FYI, the "no-brainer" part supposedly refers to the issues and not the council members, but sometimes it's the later.)  This is the part of the agenda that people use to try to slip things by, under the radar.  But Council Member Dianne Woodruff, who was participating in the meeting via teleconference, had her radar on and was not painting her toenails and eating bonbons, so caught Ms. Wannabe's (CSL's) attempt to pull a fast one and had the item moved to New Business. More on this later.

Subsequently, the audience learned the good news:  Mr. Troy Tankersley, the City Finance Chief, is an honest man. Ah.  When questioned by the ever-vigilant Ms. Woodruff about why he was bringing forward a 2nd no-bid city contract which should have been put out to bid, he 'fessed up to what she had already deduced: that the city had not paid attention and the contract had expired.  (Woodruff wasn't napping, either, but somebody has been.)  

However, waah, Woodruff made a 2nd correct guess (she wasn't in the shower even though it sounded like she was) and there's more no-bid contracts coming; according to Mr. Tankersley, there may be as many as 5 no-bid contracts coming before the Council shortly.  Apparently, a change in staff has meant that some balls got dropped and contracts expired, or are due to expire, before bids were, or can be, requested, so the City is sort of constrained to renew the existing contract(s).  So much for the COW being a really tightly run ship.  Waah.

Party On!  The Wannabee sisters agree to vote to party.

Without much to-do the council voted to create committees to plan for parties for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city which will be 5 yrs from now (Taffina Katkus' pet project) and the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of the city in 2 yrs (Colleen Sullivan-Leonard's pet project).  Planning ahead for parties:  it's a good thing!

No Coasting just yet....

Fast forward to New Business and that no-brainer item.  It was a resolution opposing Prop 2 on the October ballot.  Prop 2 is about a Coastal Management Plan, which was the subject of a major presentation across town at the very moment that the City Council was debating it.  I got the distinct impression that Ms. Wannabe (CSL) put this item on the agenda because Big Bro Anchorage Mayor told his little sis to.  The 13 lines summarizing the reasons Ms. Wannabe gave for opposing Prop 2 included such damming words as "EPA", "federal", "bureaucracy", "strict oversight", "environmental standards", and "regulations".  Ooooooo, sounds bad to the "open for business crowd"!  But had anybody read Prop 2?  That's where the no-brainer part comes in.  No brains seem to have been waisted on that endeavor otherwise they would have had something specific to point to as a problem with Prop 2.  Council members Ms. Katkus and Mr. Wall indicated their opposition to Prop 2, and mentioned having heard about it at AML (Alaska Municipal League, a conference for elected officials), while Council Member Woodruff (still vigilant) pointed out that AML voted to support, not oppose, Prop 2.  After some discussion, at Council Member Woodruff's urging the Council voted to delay voting on the resolution so that the citizens who were attending the presentation would have an opportunity to weigh in, and so that this would not be no-brainer action afterall.  Ah.  Maybe.

Now, we get into the real heart of the meeting, for LoL.  

LoL:  it isn't what you think

The council spent 2 hrs as a Committee of the Whole asking questions about and discussing the Mayor's proposal to put on the October ballot an increase in the city sales tax to 3%, 1/2% of which would be dedicated to capital projects, with a new library heading the list.  Most council members had submitted written questions.  Ms. Wannabe (CSL) seemed to have more statements to make than questions to ask; did she already know it all, or did she not care about learning anything?  The answer would be revealed later in the evening.

Some interesting factoids were unearthed:

•it's possible that the City already has the authority and power to increase the sales tax, and doesn't need an affirming vote of the people.  The legal beagles will be digging up the bones on this.
•nobody has a copy of the ballot on which citizens voted for the sales tax, so we don't really know what, exactly, the wording was of the issue that city residents voted for back in 1992 when the sales tax was created.
•it's estimated that the 1/2 cent sales tax would generate $2.9m revenue per year 
•the interest expense for the sports center bonds was about $3.6m.  Had we not borrowed/bonded to build it, but forward-funded it, the 1/2% sales tax surcharge could have been discontinued more than a year earlier, saving taxpayers $3.6m
•thanks to the Friends of the Library and others, the State legislature passed a bill which says that the State will pay half of the cost of the library.
•a one-story building will cost about $7m, half of which will be paid by the state.
•adding a 2nd floor to the library will cost about another $3m.  . . . this space would be cheap to build now but is not needed by the library at this time, so could be rented out at a profit (to the school district for a charter school or to Charter College) which would help pay for the cost of running the library
•the cost of running a library 3x larger than our existing library would NOT be 3x higher, but only maybe 1/2 again higher, an additional $400k
•City Admin had no proposed list of capital projects for the Council to kick around.
•City Admin had no proposed list of priorities for improved city services to be fund by the 1/2 cent sales tax increase that would go into the general fund.  (The truth is that the sport complex eats a hole in the COW budget to the tune of over half a million dollars a year and the 1/2 cent sales tax increase would go into covering up that fact by filling that hole.)
•if the COW did like the COP does (don't you love the acronyms for Wasilla & Palmer?) and raised the sales tax ceiling from $500 to $1000 (right now, if you buy something costing more than $500, you pay sales tax on only $500), it would generate about $1.4m, plenty of additional revenue to cover the estimated $400k increase in the cost of running a larger library, so there's other ways to fund the increased operating expenses of a larger library than raising the sales tax rate.

Good information.  Facts on which to base decisions.   It looked like we were getting somewhere, at last.   Ah.

But this is WAAH-SILLY-ah, folks, and we must live up to our name!  

Coming out of the Committee of the Whole is when the utter silliness began.  Ms. Wannabe (CSL), whose library "questions" were mostly statements, started the silliness with a motion to table the ordinance:  doing this would mean that after about 25 years of planning for a library nothing would be on the ballot in October.  Six more hours of council meetings had been scheduled on this topic, but Council member Sullivan-Leonard declared that she'd heard enough already to know that she didn't have enough information and she wanted a new library too much to want to proceed to get more information (or something like that).  Was her real problem that this ordinance didn't have her name on it?  Or that she wanted to delay this project until her administration so it could appear on her list of accomplishments?  Oh, that would be too silly.  Or would it?  (How does "Sullivan Library" sound to you?)  Not to be left out of the silliness, Ms. Katkus, another Wannabe Mayor, also stated her lack of knowledge, and that this was coming out of the blue with no warning. Mr. Wall and Ms. Harris said that they wanted a library too much to allow the question to go onto the ballot.  Ms. Woodruff said she didn't like this proposed ballot language, and would support amending it.  So, 4 Waah-silly-ah council members who LOVE libraries voted to not allow the voters to vote for a library this fall. . . . and a 5th meant to:  Katkus, who seems to frequently be confused about what "yes" and "no" mean, asked to change her vote to go on the record as opposed to putting the question on the ballot.  They, who are paid to learn the facts, couldn't be bothered.

This is when a genuine waah was heard from the audience, because sitting in the nasty, snot-green uncomfortable chairs were 6 true LoL (Lovers of Libraries) who were decidedly NOT LOL, each of whom had invested up to 25 yrs or more on the issue, DID know the facts and for whom this issue was not "out of the blue".  

Killing the ordinance was not enough silliness to cap a long meeting, however:  more was needed to make this a night to remember.  With the exception of Council Member Woodruff (who had burned up the landline and was now teleconferencing via cell phone) the members of the council voted to cancel all their planned work sessions and not continue to educate themselves or pursue putting a measure on the ballot. This was in spite of the pleas from true LoL--who were not LOL--that the council not stop the process, but continue to meet and hammer out an ordinance that could be brought forward for public vote--possibly by October or even in a special election.  

How silly library supporters felt to have thought that "maybe this time . . . ".   How silly it was of them to think that the people who sit in the comfy chairs--who say they know all that they needed to know about Prop 2 which barely impacts Wasilla, and are all over it when it comes to party planning--would know (or care to find out in a timely manner) what they needed to know about an issue which has been on the council agenda periodically for over a quarter of a century.  How silly of library supporters to think that people who have expressed doubts about the need for a library were true LoL.  How silly library supporters were to trust people in tilt-a-whirl chairs who run for election and re-election on a platform of not trusting government and who have said that libraries are passe.

And you would be silly, too, if you thought that Council members Sullivan-Leonard, Katkus, Wall and Harris did this because they dislike libraries.  Oh, no! they love libraries!  Faster than any of them could whirl their chairs, they were all protesting their long-held love of libraries.  You should have heard the eloquent speeches they made!  (They seem not to know that actions speak louder than words.)  Ms. Harris killed the library because she "doesn't trust government". The Wannabe sisters killed it because, they said, it was sudden, and there was no rush; it's not like the library has been too small for at least 25 years, or anything.  

Council Member Woodruff, who didn't like the original ordinance, was the only council member ready and willing to continue to meet to work out something that could be put on the ballot and that would be appealing to voters.  Too bad she didn't think to do this last fall.

So,  party: yes; library: no.    Great priorities, doncha' think!

Q:  How many LoL in tilt-a-whirl chairs does it take in Waah-silly-ah to kill the library, again?  
A   Four:  Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Taffina Katkus, Leone Harris, and Brandon Wall.   (Holler was absent.)

Each of them could have, but didn't bother to, bring forward an ordinance supporting a library; instead, the LoL on the council criticized the Administration for its efforts on the behalf of a new library. 

My gosh, what if the library had enemies!!!  It was enough to make heads spin and cause true LoL to hang onto their nasty, uncomfortable snot-green chairs for dear life!

Waah and gaging sounds were heard in the hallway as the "I-don't-know--25-years-is-rushing-it--there's-no-rush--and-I-care-too-much-to-learn-more-but-I'm-ready-to-be-mayor-and-party" crowd declared how proud they were of the actions that they had taken this evening.

This is not sci fi fantasy.  It was real, folks.  

Where do we go from here?  

•Join the Friends of the Library.  Contact Jeanne Troshynski.  Donate.  Help the Friends put together a long over-due massive lobbying effort.

•Talk up the need for a new library with friends.  Write a letter to the editor.

•Talk up the library with City Council members.
    Leone Harris has said that she sees no need for a library; she has a computer and can get all the 
          information she needs from the internet.  
    Ms. Wannabe (CSL) said she has a nook and doesn't need books, either.
    Mr. Holler has also been saying that he thinks that libraries aren't needed anymore.

Question:  is an educated, informed public still necessary for the functioning of a healthy democracy, or is that passe, too?

•Find some better people to run for City Council, Borough Assembly and Mayor.  The filing period begins 
    7/16.  COW seats up for election this October are A (Katkus), B (Holler) and F (Wall).  Holler is term-
    limited and cannot run again, so at least one seat will not have an incumbent candidate.  Borough 
    Mayor and Assembly seats held by Larry DeVilbiss, Ron Arvin, Jim Colver, and Vern Halter are up.

•Put your mind to figuring out a formula for funding borough libraries in cities.  Then find and support a Boro Mayor and Assembly candidates who support it.  

Borough libraries outside the COW & COP are fully funded by the borough through revenue raised by the borough's .5 mil non-area wide property tax for libraries (from which city residents are exempted).  80% of COW library users pay the non-areawide tax to the borough (ie, are not city residents) but it sounded like from what Wasilla mayor Rupright was saying, the Borough Mayor and Assembly currently is providing no funding for the COW library, so where is the borough property tax going for all those non-city residents who pay property tax for libraries and use the COW & COP libraries?


The next Wasilla City Council meeting will be Monday, August 13th@ 6pm.  Come.  Stare at them; they love being the center of attention.  Better yet, speak up.   A resolution opposing Prop 2 will again be on the agenda; maybe you'd like to tell the council what you think of it. (You can see these things online, and get alerts and packets for meetings by going to the COW Clerk's webpage.)  Maybe you'd like to talk about the library.  If you think you might have something to say (you can always change your mind later if you decide not) be sure to sign the clipboard near the door to the COW council chambers as you enter.  Don't come late:  Mayor Slam-bam-thank-you-Ma'am Rupright is always trying to set a new meeting speed record and your chance to speak could be right after 6pm.  You get 3 min.  There's a second opportunity to speak at the bitter end of the meeting, if your butt can handle that much time in the uncomfortable seats and your head hasn't exploded beforehand from the cognitive dissonance.               




Sunday, July 8, 2012

PART 2 STRANGE THINGS DONE IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN



From the onslaught of emails it sure sounds as if everyone is tingling in their seats waiting for Part 2 of the longgggggg trailer of the longggggggggg last assembly meeting we served up Friday. So here you go.


Your fired oh wait a minute..no you aren’t….

Routine renewal of road service contracts turned into a bit of a dust up in regards to the Big Lake Road Service Area.  The short of it was a case of old contractor, who last time around was replaced by new contractor and old contractor (who due to contract violations replaced mid winter in other RSA areas) wanted his turf back. The armies were called out, insults and promises were slung and old contractor gets his pink trucks back in place under what is promised to be better scrutiny.  By no means a good solution but with so many other hot topics flying off the plate that’s where it landed.  Rest assured the good ol’boy network is still alive and well and arrogant as ever.



Not so fast, nonprofit Small Business Development Center

The SBDC spoke of the wonderful things they do to promote business development, including one-on-one confidential advising to small businesses. The Ceremonial Mayor assured the spokesperson for the Small Business Development Center, who was testifying in favor of the resolution for $95, 000 to be spent by the Economic Development Department that the center would only be getting a slice of the pie.  It wasn't clear from the brief remarks of the new borough Economic Development Director Don Dyer or anyone else where the other slices will go or how much will go to the SBDC. It does makes us wonder if any of this big hunk of tax payer change is going to the MatSu RC&D and if Assembly member Salmon is still president of the board if so? The website for the organization doesn’t make it very clear who the board members are but it has been referenced to several times in previous assembly meetings.  Hmmm…If so couldn’t be a conflict there right? Economic growth is always the key talking point of any assembly meeting but to talk out of the box of generalities or specific actions always leads back to that dream stage. Hopefully the assembly will continue to request how this taxpayer money is spent and what success it leads to.  Oh and wouldn’t it be great if we knew who on the Assembly is connected to who and what?


Air Force asked to Fly Higher.

After receiving considerable advice from the Aviation Advisory Board and the Wildlife Commission, Assemblyman Keogh introduced a measure asking the U.S. Air Force to raise the elevation for part of its JPARC training area near Lake Louise from 500 feet to 5,000 feet. There was a wide range of different takes on the reasons for supporting this proposal and the resolution. It's all too infrequent that different user groups agree on repercussions to people and places but in this case they did. Lake Louise area residents are serious about impacts to their area and lifestyle.  This time the assembly listened. The resolution passed unanimously.


Finally, A Citizen Victory.

A petition to bring natural gas to a Lazy Mountain neighborhood through an LID (Local Improvement District) failed to get the required 50% support on the petition requesting the LID.  One neighborhood resident testified he had voted for the petition, “...but found it distasteful that homeowners must pay whether they need it [gas] or not.”  Another owner of multiple properties had made sure his neighbors were informed about costs should it be approved.

The Ceremonial Mayor inappropriately quipped, “One of your neighbors got conscience-stricken and went against the LID.”  Then the vote failed unanimously and the Mayor declared the measure had “...failed by unanimous discontent.”  What?  Did he really say that?

Prickly stuff for a Ceremonial Mayor.  Does the Mayor have friends that live in this area who wanted the gas?  Is there something wrong with turning down a failed petition?  Really Mr. Mayor isn’t this the way democracy is supposed to work for people?  At least the majority ruled in that Lazy Mountain neighborhood.  Expect to hear more on borough involvement in gas LID's and just who benefits and pays the costs.  Safe to say Enstar isn't losing any money and in fact some would say they are cutting a fat hog on the deal.  



No Sweet Dreams on the Horizon…

The next nightmare coming up in the citizens of the borough’s future is courtesy of Assemblyman Darcie Salmon who brought forth legislation with his intent to repeal of the current Multi-family Development Design Standards in the borough.  He started the process rolling by punting it to the planning commission who seems to have lots of time on their hands lately for a 90 day review. Oddly it was introduced in the same meeting that heard several people testify about being at their wits end with some neighbors sprawled next to their nice neighborhood off Hollywood Road in what they claim is an illegal subdivision containing one lot with five trailers full of people without proper sewer, water or electricity that have a fondness for shooting guns.  They complained not only of the foul odors, health safety issues to their own wells and land but sincere concern for their own welfare.  Folks don't normally show up to speak to assembly members in a public meeting and ask for their help unless they have run out of other options.  To make it even odder, this is an area that Mr. Salmon represents who wants to now loosen the development standards for multi-family.  Can the banjo music get any louder?  Guess we are about to see.

While we're at it shouldn't the public be privy to what the cost of these endless revisions and turning back the clock are?  We hear plenty of rhetoric about the cost of having any standards or regulations but never the cost of the unraveling.  Pretty much guessing the costs incurred so far in what this assembly has managed to unhinge would be staggering.  



SO Listen Up to this 3 Minutes of Public Testimony..

We promised you with this jaw dropping, knocked out of the park testimony by a borough resident who said so much in three short minutes we had to listen to it twice and ask for a transcript to share.  More of this kind of testimony might get the attention of the boys gone wild that pretend to represent your interests at the assembly table...


By permission:

"Mr. Mayor, Assembly Members, Staff.  My name is Patricia Rosnel.  I urge you to adopt Resolution 12-076 regarding the Jim Creek Master Plan, to reflect the intent of its parent Butte Asset Management Plan, from which there seems to have been an attempt to orphan it.  This is the parent Butte plan that survived rigorous public process up to unanimous assembly approval that designated Jim Creek as multi-use.  

A few weeks ago we were rendered speechless by a publicly attempted coat hanger abortion of the Jim Creek Master Plan through an unannounced maneuver that I might characterize as sleazy at best.  That attempted abortion was an assault on the public process, and an attack on borough constituents.  It was disrespectful to fellow assembly members.  The defense that motorized means nonexclusionary is senseless.  The one assembly member who lives in the district voted against the amendment while the proposer is not only not from that district, but has been noticeably absent even from the assembly chambers this year. 

Resolution 12-075 contains a simple correction that restores the civil intent of the public process; sharing, that is, multi-use, arrived at by a community who disagreed amongest themselves but who still reached a mutually acceptable solution, honestly and through a democratic process. 



This year at taxpayer expense we witnessed back to the future subdivisions, the tall tower rout, and the cutting of the ethics code.  Here, an attempt is made again to divert the focus, this time to motorized wheels over human feet and animal hooves.  The original legislation was to authorize a public planning process, not curtailed by the assembly before its time of hijacked for personal, business, or political purpose.  The assembly will have its way with the plan, after the residents, in the body of according to the borough comprehensive plan. "the affected community (s)."

Only a few months ago you stood strong for residents and community councils.  What might have reversed that outlook so soon?  The people of the valley, not Anchorage or beyond, pay your salary, your health insurance, and now apparently your life insurance.  Tonight you can confirm your respect for us and demonstrate support for untainted public process by passing Resolution 12-075."

Not public testimony they hear every day. But when you take on the tough task of being an elected official a big part of the job is to open your ears to all constituents. Didn't budge the assembly to vote for the resolution but then this testifier WAS NOT a member of the Mat Su Business Alliance or Conservative Patriots group.    


Even the new temporary digs at the school district didn't slow down the rhetoric or the plans for future skullduggery.  You won’t want to miss the next exciting meeting scheduled for July 17th in the School District Administration Building behind Swanson Elementary School.  Radio Free Palmer will be there streaming the meeting and making it available for podcast although listening to these meetings twice are beginning to result is a nasty rash of some concern.

By then Borough candidates for School Board, Assembly and Mayor will be signing up for the October Borough Election.  There are already some promising candidates that have thrown their hats in with plenty of time for more that might be considering it.  

Getting some balance on both these elected bodies would give us far less to write about and you to worry about. Pay attention the future of the borough depends on it. 




Thursday, July 5, 2012

THERE ARE STRANGE THINGS DONE IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN **PART 1***




But few as strange as bearing witness to a borough assembly meeting which seems as if the worlds of Robert Service and Shakespeare are crashing together as your elected officials drift between perception and reality in a performance that could have come straight out of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

The last assembly meeting started off with the fate of the M/V Susitna Ferry that remains a dream but is treated like an orphan in a floating reality, with no one taking on financial responsibility.  Motorized users at Jim Creek were revved up against an attempt to clarify multiple misunderstandings about the Assembly's true intent for development of more than 400 Borough owned acres there.   And one citizen victory prevailed for people in one neighborhood against the heavy hand of the borough and corporate interests.

Like we said..when worlds collide there are dreams and realities.


What's up Dock?

The M/V Susitna was suppose to be a dream come true courtesy of one of the last pieces of pork delivered by Uncle Ted Stevens, former U.S. Senator.  The borough would get a ferry built by the military and testing would be done on the capabilities of the new multi-use ice breaking/landing craft/ferry.  The borough would then magically get the ferry to transport cars and commuters between Port MacKenzie and Anchorage. It was visualized as a precursor of sorts to a bridge connecting the two land masses and its citizenry. But hey it’s deja vu all over again in the tradition of brand new grain silos and railcars, built in the 1980's, that never exported a grain of Delta barley to the world because the M/V Susitna could cost Borough taxpayers $1 million to $2 million per year whether it carries a single passenger or vehicle or not.  Sound familiar?

The torrid ferry tale was revealed during the normal yawner of reports at the beginning of the Assembly meeting.  Borough Manager Moosey tantalized the men of the Assembly with possible ways out of the multi-million dollar boondoggle, with many of the same possibilities he aired in February.  Hope springs eternal.  Hired just in time to be expected to wave a magic wand to fix this “ferry” tale, it has been high on Mr. Moosey's to overcome list no doubt.

Some choices are truly optional or maybe NOT

  • The state ferry system could take over the ferry as a short or long-term replacement for ferries going out of service or as backup.  Built as a prototype the bow loading M/V Susitna isn't compatible with most docks that now load cars onto the side of existing ferries. Problem not easily solved and would, yes, you guessed it, cost more money!

  • The Naval Underwater Research Center says they would also love the boat if the Borough would spend $2 million for upgrades and pay another half million per year to offset their costs. Hey we were always taught the answer is no unless you ask.

  • Private companies might consider operating the vessel if the borough foots the cost of operations and then shares proceeds from clients—those elusive clients. Another guaranteed money loser. 

  • The option was considered to dock the boat in Seward for $9,000 per month except there is no way to lift it onto the dry dock—that would be an additional expense.  Surprise, surprise! Long term dry docking was not recommended, said Manager Moosey.

  • The suggestion to beach the vessel at Pt. MacKenzie comes up somehow at every assembly meeting. A couple assemblymen love this idea which would be a convenient way for a little payback to favored big contractor and political supporter who just happens to be working at the port and is  (APOC reports always show there is more to the story) itchin to put some big mega inner-tubes under the seemingly big floating anchor. Manager Moosey reported this was definitely not recommended.  Assemblymen Arvin's disembodied voice from China urged the Manager to keep looking for a way to dry dock at Pt. Mac even with a special cradle. After all there is an election this fall.

  • The Navy is anxious for the Borough to take possession of the boat which was scheduled to happen last February.  But several items need to be completed such as radar, Coast Guard certification and emergency response.  The Navy isn't paying.  Another big surprise, not!  It’s looking more and more like the Borough is on the hook.  The Coast Guard looking at its own shrinking budget has no interest in adding the borough ferry to its fleet.

Please Please Sell To the highest bidder!

Asked if there are results from an appraisal so the boat could be sold the manager said no appraisal had been done.  A sale would determine value or perhaps work with a broker. Makes us wonder if it’s perhaps the same broker who finally unloaded the famed Governor Frank's jet? Visualize the cash register drawer slamming open and shut and your tax dollars inside.

Assemblyman Halter asked the price to build landings and what would happen to grant funds if landings were not built? Hold on Mr. Halter..don’t be dreamin of a pot of gold for northern district projects yet.  Moosey stated $30 million were needed to build landings but the feds have put hold on that portion of grant funds because there is no place to dock and none are being built.  If landings are not constructed then grant funds would probably go back to those evil feds.

Add that pile of good news to the million spent dollars in grant funds that would have to be returned to the federal government if the vessel isn't used as required.  You know,  ferrying passengers and cars between Pt. Mac and Anchorage.  And even if the ferry is given up to the federal surplus system or sold, the m/v Susitna will simply be gone like the end of a car lease when the car has to be returned.  Rarely a good financial decision.

Turns out the dream was for an almost free low cost ferry gifted to the Borough from the military. But the harsh reality is that the boat got built, alas missing was that pesky memorandum of understanding with the Municipality of Anchorage to share costs.  The ferry sits finished but there is neither agreement nor designated docks for the craft to land at Port Mac or Anchorage.  Big bills have started to crash on the shore of the borough that is now due for Mat-Su taxpayers to pay.  So what is the future of this ferry tale?

Well the dream lives on and you can expect the finger pointing to continue but nothing real has materialized and the bills are rolling in for Mat-Su taxpayers to pick up.  There is a sinking feeling this “ferry tale” will not have a happy ending.


Jim Creek plan revs up motorized users—but non-motorized users do not quit or go quietly into the good night.

Car burnings and unbridled craziness have toned down a bit at Jim Creek in recent years, but the tense truce between motorized and non-motorized users turned into another flare-up as a new cup of gasoline was added when the Jim Creek Master plan for more than 400 Borough acres was re-labeled by the Assembly as a “motorized” development plan in a previous meeting.  Reportedly a flood of emails from both non-motorized and motorized users hit assembly mailboxes since.  

The Borough Community Development Department proceeded accordingly without contemplating separate non-motorized trails or uses.  After a passel of motorized users testified that the non-motorized users were free to use their trails and facilities, non-motorized users testified that the motorized trails were not safe, not usable, and not always compatible with non-motorized uses.  And there is plenty of land to accommodate both types of use which leads to more frustration.

Eric Philips, who became the fourth Borough Community Development Manager in about a year, was cross-examined by the Men of the Assembly.  Both he, and Manager Moosey, stated that separate non-motorized facilities and uses were not being considered due to "motorized" being inserted into the title at the previous assembly meeting by, and not to be redundant,  Mr. Arvin who is not the representative of this district, and in fact spends most of his waking hours in China and we're guessing hasn't set foot in the Jim Creek area in ages.  Management and staff deserve a little slack here. Seems pretty reasonable to think given a task of which the title includes "motorized" would prompt the planning to be geared that way.  After all wasn’t that the point of the title change initiated by Assemblyman Arvin? 

To his credit and normally a big proponent of motorized all over the borough, Assemblyman Noel Woods argued that “We didn't intend that non-motorized be excluded.” Then Woods moved to strike two paragraphs of the resolution that seemed to imply motorized exclusivity.  Assemblyman Arvin's DVA (disembodied voice from afar) objected.  Arvin argued that non-motorized uses would be accommodated without making changes to the motorized title.  Makes us expect when we do see Mr. Arvin again he be sporting a new “motorized” tattoo somewhere.

Assemblyman Keogh ever the voice of reason said, “Words matter.  If the intent is to include motorized and non-motorized access we should say so.”

The Assembly attempted a compromise by declaring their intent to include non-motorized uses in the development of the Jim Creek plan and then voted down the new resolution that would have specifically stated “non-motorized” uses would be included. Say what?

The ceremonial mayor was clearly rankled by the resolution that was brought forth to clarify the issue as well as the obvious confusion within the Borough.  He admitted that the long discussion at least clarified the intent of the Jim Creek Plan.  Okkkkkay..and had Assemblyman Keogh not persisted in getting the issue clarified on the project within his district, it could have proceeded against the actual intent of the Assembly and the Butte Area Asset Management Plan.  Do these guys get irony?


Give away the farm without a second look.

The next dream sequence came on an important resolution brought forth by the mayor that garnered agreement by the minority member of the assembly regarding the preservation of farm land in the borough.

The ceremonial mayor, a carrot farmer himself, knows the value in preserving the ever dwindling supply of the only class two soils in Alaska found right here in the borough. As much as he's a lover of gravel pits and coal mines he knows you can't grow a head of lettuce, potato or carrot in it. There seemed to be solid support in testimony for the resolution that would have given the Assembly the opportunity to take a second look at a farm land parcel proposed for a public building.  The intent was to help preserve farmland if other non-farm land was easily available.  This scene is being played out currently as a site for a future Palmer elementary school that is sitting on the drawing board.  A parcel and owner sitting about smack dab in the middle of the best farmland in the borough that was given the bums rush during selection of the last school built in the area is putting a full court press attempt to bring his parcel front and center for the borough to buy. 

Get your smelling salts handy because your Citizen Lobbyist agrees with the ceremonial mayor on this one.  There are plenty of alternatives to selling a finite supply of farm land for schools and the consequences of doing so are clear. It only makes sense to put schools where neighborhoods are already located or will be developed nearby.  Put a school in the middle of prime farm land and all the remaining farmers are going to be pressured into digging up their fields and throwing in the trowel to developers looking for flat land with cash sticking out of their pockets.  All over the country the clock is being turned back to create the space for local food to be farmed.  The cost, dangers, and long range consequences of relying on food farmed far away have created complicated impacts environmentally and financially and to our citizen's health. In Alaska importing the bulk of our food supply is a huge security issue just being realized. Mat Su has a unique opportunity to create a sustainable food supply right here. Farming is a huge and growing economic centerpiece and it should be. Thanks to the rejuvenation of the outdoor market, and technology that has limited the back breaking manpower necessary plus the growing awareness for the benefits of buying local, farmers are starting to see increased and promising profits.  Good farm land is on a renewed path to be handed down to future generations that will be able to flourish and sustain the oldest lifestyle in this part of the state.  The economic sense and evidence of preserving it is pretty clear.

Apparently not clear enough for Assembly man Arvin questioning from China ,  “Are we shackling the Borough to buy the non-farm land for a school.”  Mayor Devilbiss snapped, “Absolutely not.  We are simply bringing it to the Assembly for another look.”  Steady yourself, THIS IS REASONABLE....Even the Borough Attorney verified the Assembly could select any lands they really wanted without being subject to challenge. 

Assemblyman Salmon (a realtor by profession) chimed in saying it might not be fair to people trying to sell their land which seems odd because nothing in the resolution suggested owners couldn't sell. In fact there was no infringement to property rights real or imagined. But to those on the assembly that won’t rest until every square inch has something they can point to as development looking into the future needs and security and safety of the people of the borough isn’t part of the current reasoning. Wait..isn’t this suppose to be the assembly of economic innovators? What’s wrong with focusing on programs to help farmers retain or obtain land as a borough economic driver?  Shouldn’t being home to the most fertile land in the state cry for inclusion in the borough’s economic goals to the state? The dream that seemed like a good idea earlier in the evening went down with only Assemblyman Keogh and Colver voting in favor. The ceremonial mayor, never shy about issuing a veto could use this power here. Let's hope this one comes back in some form for another look.  The people of the borough and the farmers deserve it to. 

Drum roll for the count it.. 4th  pro-KABATA Resolution.

With record numbers of special meetings over the past 9 months was there a compelling reason for the Assembly to once again state its support for KABATA--Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority?  There was a difference of opinion about whether or not this was necessary, or whether anyone had actually requested another resolution.  Manager Moosey said that four municipalities were taking the proposal jointly to the Alaska Municipal League to seek better statewide support from a legislature that has shown increased scrutiny. Originally the big bridge was “guaranteed” to be entirely privately funded.  The private funding route was a dream.  The reality seems to be that legislators (and the people of the state) are now being asked to fund the whole thing.  Surprised? Didn’t think so.

Assemblyman Keogh asked the manager what results had been produced by the $30,000 lobbying contract awarded to former legislator Eldon Mulder back in March to lobby for KABATA on behalf of the Borough.  Makes us wonder who recommended a second lobbyist to come aboard to promote the highly controversial bridge. Oddly a check on the APOC website of companies Mr. Mulder lists as who he lobbies for is E Terra LLC.  Isn't that the firm Assemblyman Colligan is a principal of?  The borough has a regular lobbyist that has been working on borough priorities for about $70,000 a year and that by all evidence of the last couple of budget cycles does a pretty good job.  Why spend another $30,000 for a short term project? The Manager said he hadn't heard anything from Mulder, but said the fourth resolution in support of KABATA was needed.  Is it needed to challenge the Municipal League to support it or else?  As you recall one of the unsuccessful veto's from the ceremonial mayor at budget time was to cancel membership in the municipal league and he was supported by Assembly man Arvin who called it a "socialist, liberal" organization.  Unsurprisingly, the resolution to support the bridge passed again.  Were guessing why not write memos to yourself when there are so little other pressing issues in the fastest growing area of the state.


Assembly Meetings although more sparse in the summer are LONGGGGGGGGGGGGGG and this one was particularly meaty so we will be serving it up in 2 parts.  Above is part 1 of our series.  The plan is to post Part 2 Sunday Evening (dont miss it..we have the transcript from one of the best 3 minute testimonies ever from the last meeting that will knock your knickers down) so you have something to read after you clean all those fish you'll be catching or tending to your weekend suntan.  

Seemingly eternal hope is catchy..

Meanwhile..think of this as "The Long, Long Trailer"...