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Monday, January 13, 2014


After watching the last borough assembly meeting it’s beginning to look like the “lockstep dance” might not be trending this year.

In the last couple of years the mayor and some members of the assembly have done a lot of gerrymandering with boards and commissions. 

In 2011 saying it was time to go on a “board and commission diet” assemblyman Arvin led the charge to successfully eliminate the “Real Property Asset Management” Board on the grounds it was “redundant”. No actual financial analysis was done to see if it would save money but with the votes lined up on the assembly (Arvin, Colver, Colligan, Woods, Salmon) and no threat of a mayoral veto, like magic it was gone. As Garfield the cat said “diet” is “die” with a “t”.

The board’s job WAS to “act in an advisory capacity to the assembly and administration, on all matters affecting real property and natural resource development.” With that ball kicked through the goal post no time was wasted in unhinging the subdivision code, passing handfuls of resolutions  in support of coal mining everywhere and anywhere, eliminating the existing tall towers regulation (and by looking at the cell towers that have popped up like chickweed with no notice that worked out well), watered down  the gravel ordinance thus allowing for gravel mining in the water table, lifted the cap off the noise ordinance and dropped  taxes for business all in the name of “opening the borough for business”. Draining the nice reserve balance the borough HAD including the emergency fund was the cherry on the top of the less oversight of government diet sundae. Opening a door to business that was never closed was just a pesky detail.

Like most dieters only one food group was eliminated (oversight of borough asset management) and more calories were packed onto boards like the port commission.This commission had the limit on appointment terms raised from two 3 year terms to three 3 year terms. The port commission has always functioned with a revolving door not uncommon in skyscrapers but rarely good for government.  In fact, that revolving door is likely to get another spin soon as defeated Assemblyman Noel Woods is up for mayoral confirmation to warm a seat that he not so long ago occupied on the port commission. This ensures no disruption in the total agreement that everything and anything that has “port" in the title gets a nod.

The assembly binging has continued with dozens of people appointed by the mayor and confirmed by a majority of the assembly to a various array of real and invented boards and commissions.  And then there are the “working groups” which by the way cost money because they require staff time. Important items like economic development are once again being taken up by a working group that includes a laundry list of cronies and political supporters of mostly yes men (and few women). The membership seat count was even raised for the ethics board but with the soggy mess the assembly has made of that ordinance it’s doubtful they will be called to meet anytime soon.

  • No other board or commission other than the “Real Property Asset Management Board” was ever eliminated ! Go figure.
  • No reason when the gatekeeper to protect the public and taxpayer interest was the only real target.
  • No reason when the borough buffet table is full of members serving up some big oversize helpings of special interest to their buddies in business to benefit with their own personal interests sprinkled on top. And with hardly anyone paying attention by evidence of the pitiful voter turnout why not, right? Only thing standing in their way is office holder ethics. And oh wait once again Assemblymen Arvin and Colver took care of that.
  • No reason when the whole goal of the assembly spending hounds (see earlier post) is to privatize the profits and socialize the costs and losses of local government.


Last week the assembly asked for a special meeting with the Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission and chances are they got more than what they bargained for. In what's become the accepted dog and pony show was well, without its dog or it's pony. Instead it was presented and documented by the well-spoken and very knowledgeable acting chair of the commission former state fish and wildlife biologist Larry Engel. His presentation made it pretty clear that he and the others on the commission take their duties and purpose to  “represent the interests of the borough in the conservation and allocations of fish, wildlife, and habitat” pretty darn seriously. Serious enough to take issue with HB77 a hotly debated bill that has some serious implication to water rights and gutting the public process that will most likely involve much arm twisting and teeth gnashing during the upcoming legislative session. You should again pay attention or you may not have any say on what happens on Alaska’s public lands and waters.


Somehow in the storm of giddy cronyism appointments to the Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, it appears to have much of what the real property asset management had before it ended up in the sacrificial stew, people with expertise who care about where they live and are not afraid to speak up. It has appointees that are subject authorities that seem to understand the difference between “public service” and “lip service”. So much so it has found itself in the middle of a tug a war between the mayor and some assembly members over a couple of letters sent to the governor speaking on behalf of the borough. The Frontiersman sums up the serial over-stepping of the mayor here So off base were the mayor’s actions it brought out former assemblyman Warren Keogh to speak up as a private citizen during audience participation. Often the lone wolf protecting the public and pointing out the ceremonial mayors political partisan actions and wrong-headed opinions, Keogh didn’t hold back and for good reason. That testimony is required reading and can be found here

And to make matters worse, in the process of carrying his political water, the mayor splashed some on the shiny new assembly members.


Assemblyman Jim Sykes has seen years of political hi-jinks. Last fall voters selected him over another of the good ole boys in part because they knew he would use is wisdom and experience to make sure there would be more transparency and a robust public process in the borough. He was the first to step up to take issue with the dueling letters and the inconsistent message it sent to the state.  For that his assembly brethren instructed him to work with fellow Assemblyman Colligan who is always at the front of the pack to demonize those that don’t agree with his narrow ideology. Colligan’s mastery in obstruction of measures to protect the public is only second to his skills in pushing the borough nearer to the radical conservative cliff. Finding that common ground might be harder than finding water in the Mojave Desert. Colligan has repeatedly claimed he hasn’t had time to read the 24 page bill. Perhaps Sykes should consider the Ted Cruz approach by reading it out loud Dr. Seuss style to his fellow assemblyman. 

On the other hand Assemblyman Matt Beck is a fresh face on the scene and is proving tout suite that he is nobody’s consort.  We are going to go out on a limb here and forecast that he will be the kind of assembly representative that does his homework on the packet and builds coalitions of balanced thinkers just as he is for a valuable resource. That can be a big threat to those filling chairs for the political purpose of their party or own political futures. The chance that he cannot be counted on "to go along to get along" poses some hurdles to the lockstep dance recitals. According to his comments he is making it clear that he understands that borough code says that NO ONE speaks for the position of the borough or the assembly other than the manager.  He also made it clear that he doesn’t like to be accused of being closed minded on issues before he has made up his mind. This may be tough for the mayor and lock steppers on the assembly to take in. To say deciding the merit of issues on the facts and not political parties and personal dogma hasn’t been the spending hounds strong point might be the biggest understatement so far this year.

So it’s looking like there will be a few more dance steps on the assembly. That even perhaps the “lockstep” will turn into a “knee lock” that brings down those that are only fiscally responsible in their own minds. We have some hope that the changes will shine some needed light on who on the assembly is working for the public and who is working for their buddies or their own political futures and that the October election will cull out some that don’t seem to understand that public service shouldn’t be confused with private entitlement.

But then there is that old saying.”If wishes were horses we’d all ride”.  The public can take the reins and lead they just have to show up and want to.