A local skiff driver takes advantage of a calm winter’s day to get out on the water, zipping by the Railroad Dock, “Soapy’s Skull,” and the many ship insignias painted on the rocks above.
Photo by Andrew Cremata

Alan Sorum selected new city manager

After a round of interviews on Jan. 29, the City Manager Selection Committee unanimously endorsed the selection of Alan Sorum of Valdez to be the next manager.
Sorum, the manager of ports and harbor facilities for the City of Valdez, had driven to Skagway that day for a second interview with the committee (he had been interviewed by phone a week earlier). The committee also had interviewed five other potential candidates from out of town by phone leading up to its decision. They decided that Sorum was their top choice, and that no others needed to come to Skagway for face-to-face interviews.
Skagway City Councilmember Mike Korsmo, who chaired the selection committee, then made the recommendation at a special council meeting on Feb. 2, and it was endorsed by the four members present: Kormso, L.C. Cassidy, Dan Henry, and Dave Hunz. All but Hunz had been at Sorum’s interview with the committee on Jan. 29. Mayor Tim Bourcy also was there.
“He impressed us in the interview... he knocked it out of the park,” Korsmo said. “He’s very intelligent and by far the best candidate to come forward yet.”
Henry said Sorum stood out from all the applications received last fall and during the second wave that came in this month. “He’s the best candidate for Skagway.”
Although Hunz had not been at the interviews, he said that he had read Sorum’s book, Northern Harbors and Small Ports: Operation and Maintenance, and said he had heard good things about him around the state. “He’s very capable.”
Korsmo also said Sorum received a glowing recommendation from the mayor of Wrangell, where he first worked in Alaska.
The council vote authorized negotiations to commence with Sorum on a contract. Bourcy, Korsmo and Henry will be the city’s negotiators.
The committee interview lasted about an hour on Jan. 29. Sorum grew up in the Southwest and after getting his degree in aeronautical science, he worked at an airport in Mesa, Ariz. He said his wife, a teacher, talked him into moving to Alaska in 1993, and he turned his focus toward ports. He was the assistant harbormaster in Wrangell from July 1993 until May 1999, when he took the job as harbormaster in Whittier. He was in Whittier just six months before taking the Valdez position, which he has held since November 1999.
During the past few years, he also has completed two masters degrees: a masters in public administration from UAS in 2002 and a master in Alaska Native and Rural Development from UAF in 2004. He said the focus of his degree was on “helping communities” and doing community-based research.

Alan Sorum, center, is interviewed by the selection committee. JB

Sorum said the timing was good now for a change. His son is enrolled at UAF and his daughter will be graduating from Valdez High in the spring. If he got the job, he would ask for a couple weeks off to attend her graduation and help his wife move down here in May. Although he had applied and was a finalist in other towns, he said Skagway was his preference. He and his wife have been here four or five times and have even hiked the Chilkoot Trail.
Sorum said he had experience working with city councils and bringing things to their attention at meetings. “I don’t miss a council meeting,” he said. His grant-writing experience began in Mesa and has continued with getting money for boat harbor fish-cleaning stations, Homeland Security grants and community EDA projects in Valdez. “The biggest thing is knowing they are available,” he said, and facilitating the paperwork and record-keeping on projects. “There’s more than just writing the grant.”
After being quizzed about grants as a potential revenue stream, he appeared to win the committee over when he said grants should never be used in the general fund. “It’s a good thing to pursue if it fits the goals of the community.”
Regarding financial matters, he has put together budgets and been through the “long and drawn out” process of adopting a city budget through public hearings, “which is right.”
Sorum said he had worked extensively with the Coast Guard (he is an auxiliary division captain) and Army Corps of Engineers on various projects. “The thing I’ve learned is that you have to be remarkably patient,” he said.
In terms of overseeing and working with employees, he said he has learned to have “faith and confidence in the people working for you to do the job,” rather than over-reaching. But if there are problems, he prefers a “progressive discipline” approach. “Give them a choice but write it down – a clear set of expectations.... It’s communication, be clear cut about what to expect.”
When asked if he had dealt with controversial issues, Sorum said there had been a harbor user’s group from Fairbanks that had problems with Valdez’s wait list system and had recommended against state funding for its boat harbor. He had to go to Fairbanks and “sell it to the people,” but “it’s still going on” after three years. He said he also stuck up for employees during a pay scale dispute.
Sorum had no questions for the committee, preferring a “wait and see” approach, but he added that his biggest concern is finding housing. “I’ll look for a room to begin with,” he said.
If he gets the job, he said he can be in Skagway on two weeks’ notice.
City Manager Bob Ward is due to retire on Feb. 28.

Two reconsideration requests before LBC

Fischer cites constitution; Hicks alleges ‘deal-making’

As this issue was at the press Thursday, the Local Boundary Commission was meeting in Anchorage to take up two requests to reconsider its Dec. 13 vote and subsequent Jan. 11 decisional statement in favor of the Skagway Borough petition.
The first request, filed Jan. 26, comes from former state senators Vic Fischer and Arliss Sturgulewski, and the second request, filed Feb. 4, comes from LBC Commissioner Bob Hicks, who co-authored a dissenting statement.
The 13-page Fischer-Sturgulewski request cites a misinterpretation of the Alaska Constitution, saying the LCB majority “fallaciously interprets” Section 2 of Article 1 as downgrading Local Government Article 10. Article 1, endorsed at the Skagway public hearing by former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, states that “all political power is inherent in the people.” Coghill was a member of the Constitutional Convention, as was Fischer. But Fischer said the specifics of Article 10 cannot be ignored because they are the “source of government,” adding that “creating a new system of hierarchical considerations is not in the LBC’s purview.”
Further, the request said the constitution provides for a two-tier system of regional boroughs and cities. “There is no basis whatsoever for simply deciding that a city is a borough or to make a city into a borough,” the Fischer-Sturgulewski report states. It also says “fear” of being included in another borough should not be a basis, nor should the enclave argument. In arguing the best interest of the state standard, they said maximum self-government for Skagway would be a home rule city. It agreed with a statement from former state representative Gail Phillips that “the state’s best interest is served by creating local governments that work,” but did not agree that a Skagway Borough accomplished that goal and said the LBC did not consider other options for the area. It also said there should have been more consideration of the staff report that recommended against the Skagway Borough.
Hicks’ nine-page request has a more combative tone, picking up from his dissension statement that called the 3-2 majority decision a “travesty.” He cites the LBC for failing to address many “material issues of fact” that he brought up during the decisional meeting in December and again on Jan. 11. Hicks, a retired lawyer, also said the LBC majority ignored the advice of legal counsel and several principles of law.
But two new accusations have surfaced. Hicks claims that the LBC did not consider potential civil rights implications in forming a mostly white Skagway Borough. Even more damning was his accusation that Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines had an illegal “ex-parte contact” with commissioners in the Juneau airport after the Skagway hearings, in which he allegedly threatened to eliminate the LBC budget if there was a vote against the Skagway Borough.
Thomas has told media that his comment was a joke. Hicks said he walked away from Thomas, but that LBC Chair Darroll Hargraves continued to have a 10-minute conversation “about unknown matters” with the legislator. Hicks cites Thomas’ comments on the record after the decision about working on a borough bill as being “an incentive.” Hicks also cited the chair for his comments about previous commissions having “a lack of political will.” He said there is “evidence warranting further investigation of the appearance of deal-making by a commissioner in the majority.”
Both requests are posted on the LBC Website at:
The decision of the commission on the reconsideration requests will be included in the web version of this story, with a detailed report in the Feb. 23 issue.

UPDATE: The LBC, voting along the same 3-2 lines, rejected the reconsideration requests at its Feb. 8 meeting.

New clinic funding uncertain

Sales tax increase, bonding alternative floated

In January the Skagway City Council approved a notice of intent with Livingstone Slone to award the company its bid to engineer the design phase of the proposed new medical clinic.
As the city enters this phase of the project, it is hoped that the Denali Commission can contribute up to 50 percent of the construction and engineering costs. However, a different political landscape combined with potential funding issues could force changes in the estimated $8 million project.
A review committee consisting of Clinic Board Chair John Warder, City Manager Bob Ward and City Engineer Paul Taylor decided to award the bid to Livingston Slone based on their past history in Skagway combined with a “realistic assessment” of the project. The base bid is estimated at $637,424, with an additional construction administration bid of $150,000.
While the bid was higher than any others received, Ward said it still fell within the engineering budget for the project and was “not far off the costs from the other firms proposing.”
Ward said he hopes the money being spent on engineering can be offset if the city is able to secure funding for up to half of the project’s construction phase through the Denali Commission. However, recent changes in the makeup of the U.S. Congress during the midterm elections could make that funding difficult.
Ward said he was not optimistic about getting money from the Denali Commission, but the city would continue to pursue that funding. If it were to fall through there could be some other foundations the city could look to for support.
“But it’s not easy, or guaranteed,” he said.
With the prospect of footing the bill for the entire project, the city is not only looking into alternatives to pay for construction, but is also entertaining the idea of scaling down the project if need be.
“We are going to approach engineering from the standpoint that it may need to be scaled back,” said Ward.
He said as far as the Denali Commission was concerned, this could present a problem as the clinic board would have to come up with an entirely new business plan. Ward is optimistic that if the Denali Commission were to change its 50 percent level of funding to a lesser amount, they might be more flexible on that position.
If the Denali Commission decides not to back the project at all, the ability to scale down the project could save the city money in the long run. Exactly how the project could be scaled down remains to be seen.
Currently, the city has $2.5 million set aside for the clinic project, $1 million of which came from the state. Projects of this nature are funded through the city’s sales tax revenue. Last October, voters rejected a ballot measure to raise local sales tax to five percent.
At the Jan 18 council meeting, citizen Mavis Henricksen spoke out about sales tax and other issues related to the proposed clinic and its funding. In her comments she brought up the potential for bonding the clinic project, instead of trying to save the money over the next few years.
She said the clinic was a basic need for the community and was “wanted and needed by the residents.” She added if the sales tax issue was approached differently it could gain more support the next time it appears on the ballot.
Councilman Dan Henry, who spearheaded the sales tax increase, has said the same in regards to the issue, and that he would be more diligent in explaining its benefits during the next municipal elections.
Ward said he agreed that bonding could present an alternative for funding clinic construction. “Mavis made a lot of sense,” he said in response to Hericksen’s comments on the subject.
He said in the past, the city council has paid for capital projects by saving the money instead of financing, not wanting to get into long-term debt. However, the clinic project could be bonded and lose less money in interest than it would if the city invested the money elsewhere.
He said the city’s current bonded debt is nothing compared to what it is allowed. For the bonding to be approved, the city would have to establish the terms and then present it to voters during an October election.
This could mean that voters would have the option to weigh-in on both the sales tax increase and clinic financing at the same time.
Ward said the original plan to begin construction in the fall of this year was unrealistic given the current circumstances, especially if the issue of bonding must go before voters.
“Spring (2008) would be our best case scenario,” he said.

Governor applauds ore terminal agreement

Gov. Sarah Palin recently commented on the new agreement to open the Skagway Ore Terminal.
In an Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority press release announcing the agreement between AIDEA and Sherwood Copper, Gov. Palin commended the board and staff, saying, “AIDEA assets belong to all Alaskans and I am glad we are getting this facility back in operation producing a return on the state’s investment, jobs for Alaskans and a boost to the Skagway economy.”
AIDEA Executive Director Ron Miller said, “With this agreement in place, AIDEA will begin work to reopen the terminal this summer to handle shipments of Sherwood’s production from their copper-gold mine located at Minto, north of Carmacks, in the Yukon Territory.”
In describing some of the legal and financial aspects of the agreement, Deputy Director of Credit and Business Development Chris Anderson explained, “The negotiations were tough, with both sides working hard to reach an agreement that works for Sherwood and AIDEA, plus that allows for additional users of the terminal.”
In order to conclude a successful agreement, both parties were able to remain flexible and find a compromised, acceptable solution, said Deputy Director Anderson. The term of the agreement is seven years, with an option to extend for an additional ten years if agreed upon between both parties. The estimated annual User Fee is approximately $1.75 million, with a security deposit required of $350,000. As the owner, AIDEA retains the right of access to any and all areas of the facility.
Project Manager John Wood, the AIDEA engineer who helped move the project forward noted, “We have an aggressive schedule to meet to be ready for Sherwood moving concentrates this summer. We are ready to get started now that the agreements have been signed.”



Zoe Wassman, right, blue ribbon winner, poses with Sarah Red-Laird, community outreach coordinator for the TIWC, in front of the "River of Words" exhibit of art and poetry at the library. Andrew Cremata

YUKON QUEST PREVIEW: Mushing Dyea, glacier dogs to the Yukon Quest (02-09-07 issue)

• SHS & SKAGWAY ACTIVITIES: School drama in February; Girls split again in Angoon

• OBITUARY: Robin S. Lingle

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