Dyea has been teeming with spring birdlife, including this pair of trumpeter swans.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

LBC staffer chided for letter to Dept. of Justice

Racial allegations denied by city, state, tribal representatives


A letter prepared by Local Boundary Commission staff member Dan Bockhorst and signed by Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Emil Notti, has received statewide criticism for including “inflammatory” comments from the LBC’s minority opinion on Skagway Borough formation.
The letter is a Preclearance Submission for Skagway’s upcoming election on June 5, which will dissolve the City of Skagway, incorporating it into a first class borough. The letter was sent to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, the federal entity which will ultimately make the decision if Skagway can proceed with its election. The agency ensures all voters within a district are provided opportunity to be fairly represented.
The controversial subject in the letter cites comments made in the LBC’s Statement of Dissent, written by Commissioners Robert Hicks and Anthony Nakazawa, and deals with the anticipated effects of borough formation on minority groups. It states, “Klukwan, only 17 miles away, is the ‘neighbor’ that the ‘fear and greed’ of White Skagway excludes with the gerrymandered boundaries of this new borough.”
It further adds, “The young students of (Klukwan’s) school are deprived of the free computers and other legally suspect city subsidies that the White students in Skagway presently enjoy.”
It concluded with, “...The effects of the boundaries of the Skagway Borough are a patent denial of civil and political rights, including voting rights, because of race.” It also cited the Alaska Supreme Court’s requirement for the LBC to consider alternate boundaries, and charged this task was not accomplished in the Statement of Decision prepared by the LBC commissioners representing the 3-2 majority.
In that Jan. 11 decision, the majority wrote the existing and proposed Skagway governments were indistinguishable in regards to territory, powers, composition of governing body, and form of representation. It reads, “Therefore, changes to voting rights and practices are, in effect, in name only.”
At the April 5 city council meeting, Mayor Tim Bourcy said, “That man (Bockhorst) needs to be fired.”
He expressed outrage over the claim Skagway was denying Klukwan its civil rights and benefit of wealth, and said Bockhorst was declaring, “Basically, we are racist.”
“Yet again we have been abused by an employee of the state,” said Bourcy. “I have never taken a shot at him, even when he was breaking the law.... Klukwan is a proud and independent community. To have a state bureaucrat say our efforts to try and form a borough were racially motivated is offensive to me....”
Bourcy said he had already spoken with government representatives and hoped there would be response to the “inflammatory” language in the decision.
Councilmember Dan Henry said, “The things (Bockhorst) wrote are some of the most vile things to be put on paper about this community. It was reckless.”
A letter to the DCCED signed by Sen. Albert Kookesh (D-Angoon) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines) expressed disappointment in the manner the preclearance letter was drafted. The language of the letter was harsh in its criticism of Notti and his department’s choice to continually utilize sections of the minority opinion, especially portions charging Skagway purposely excluded Klukwan on racial grounds. It states these charges were “categorically untrue” and “offensive.” Both of Skagway’s legislators are Alaska Natives.
The letter reads, “The fact that you chose to put this particular part of the minority opinion in your preclearance letter is an embarrassment to Skagway, the LBC, your department, and the entire state.”
The letter also stated it was obvious why neither Thomas or Kookesh, nor Klukwan, was sent a copy of the letter, and asked that the preclearance letter be withdrawn.
A letter from the president of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, Kimberly Strong, which was sent to Notti stated, “...It would be good if you think that our community would be adversely affected by anything that you would let us know directly so that we can generate our own response.”
It added that Klukwan has never been interested in becoming a part of any borough.
The final part of the letter reads, “...They (Skagway) have always been good neighbors to us; they respect our boundaries, and our cultural differences.”
Because no formal request for reconsideration of the Statement of Decision was ever made, no one involved was ever given a chance to respond to, or challenge, the comments made concerning charges of racism. Bourcy said the motivation for borough formation was simply to ensure Skagway had an efficient self-government.
In response to inquiries made via e-mail, Bockhorst said the preclearance request submitted by the DCCED complied with Justice Department requirements, and no effort was made to selectively quote inflammatory parts of the minority statement.
He wrote, “...The findings and conclusions expressed by the LBC majority regarding the issue of potential discrimination (the civil and political rights standard) were quoted in their entirety... In contrast, only a relatively small part – about one-seventh – of the LBC minority’s findings and conclusions on the topic were quoted in the preclearance request...”
While this statement is true it should be noted the portion of the preclearance letter dealing with the majority opinion on this topic is 128 words long, while the section dealing with the minority opinion is 449 words long.
Bockhorst also stated, ”Any borough incorporation in Alaska is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act.”
In response to Bockhorst’s comments stating inflammatory parts of the minority opinion were not intentionally included, City Manger Alan Sorum said, “If you read what goes into the preclearance letter that is not true at all.”
Sorum said similar letters written for other municipalities do not include material with the same inflammatory tone. Also, there was no need to give them the dissenting opinion on the topic of race because Skagway’s electorate will not change. He said because Klukwan was never a part of Skagway’s election process, Klukwan should not have been mentioned at all.
Sorum said the concern is for the short term, because if the DOJ puts the June 5 election on hold, there is no mechanism within the state to deal with the situation.
Cynthia Magnuson, a representative with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. said her department had yet to make a decision regarding the upcoming borough election. She said a response would be generated by May 21, after a 60-day review of the preclearance submission.
Bourcy remains optimistic the election will happen as planned. “We will have our election on June 5th so our future is protected,” he said.
DCCED Commissioner Notti was out of his office and unavailable for comment on this piece.
Gov. Sarah Palin recently replaced Hicks on the LBC with Lynn Chrystal of Valdez. LBC members are still not free to talk about their decision until after the election.
Candidates for city offices have until 5 p.m. Monday to have their petitions and financial disclosure forms turned into the Division of Elections in Juneau, which will mail ballots starting May 14.
A call to the division in Juneau asking who had filed thus far, was not returned by press time. Most incumbents have been passing around petitions, but there are rumors of possbile races.
City Councilmember Tom Cochran recently confirmed that he will be running for mayor against Bourcy.

UPDATE: A complete list of mayoral, assembly and school board candidates for the June 5 election may be viewed at the Division of Elections site: http://ltgov.state.ak.us/elections/localelec.php

The News will have candidate statements in the May 11 and May 25 issues, as well as information on the borough question.

Corless moving on to Keweenaw NHP in Michigan
The National Park Service is searching for a new superintendent for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Jim Corless, who held the post for the past two and a half years, recently announced that he will be leaving in early June to become Superintendent of Keweenaw National Historical Park in northern Michigan.
Corless will have had the shortest tenure of any KGRNHP superintendent since the park was established 30 years ago this summer. Corless said he did not anticipate leaving Skagway so soon, but the opportunity at Keweenaw, a park similar to Klondike, was hard to pass up.
Keweenaw first caught his interest before he came to Skagway when he was working as Chief of Interpretation and Education at Lowell NHP in Massachusetts, according to an NPS press release. Now, he will take what he learned here to work with the communities of the Keweenaw Peninsula and park staff in “interpreting and preserving its diverse stories and resources.”
In an interview last week, Corless said, “It’s a partnership park, even more than here.” It includes two communities with a rich history around the 1843 copper rush, but with native mining that dates back 7,000 years. The park was established in 1992 and owns about the same number of historic buildings as Klondike has in Skagway. The two towns, Clumet and Quincy, are on a peninsula that juts into windy Lake Superior.
Corless said the highlights of his Skagway tenure were “the enjoyable community” and “the incredible setting.” His wife Mary Jane and he enjoyed hiking the Chilkoot and local trails, and getting out in their kayaks.
He said the park is in great shape, thanks to “a great management team and staff doing great things that reflect well on me, but are really the work of the staff.”
Of note, he said, was being able to move the Sheep Camp campground relocation forward this summer, and partnering with the city, Alaska Natural History Association, and Rasmuson Foundation on the Rapuzzi Collection acquisition. “It’s still pending, but we hope for a good outcome in a short period.”
Corless said he also enjoyed working with the city on the potential for registering the Chilkoot Trail as a World Heritage Site. “While it could not happen in this go-round,” he said. “the prep work is there for the next opportunity.” Such a designation would also fall in line with work being done on international links with the Klondike cities of Dawson City and Seattle.
He also said work on the Dyea Management Plan has progressed with public input, so the park can do a better job interpreting the ghost town remnants. They are looking at reopening historic streets for viewing and controlling river erosion with engineered log jams.
Asked if there had been any “low-lights,” he said, “Honestly, there have been none.” He credits local residents with “having a strong, vested interest in preserving Skagway history.”
He said he will miss working with city officials, members of the Dyea Advisory Board and Convention and Visitors Bureau, and especially Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, who was “very welcoming to us.”
Finally he again expressed “confidence in the management team here. It is superior to any I have worked with in the Park Service. They are cohesive and work well together.”
Corless begins his new assignment on June 10. He said an interim superintendent will be named soon, while the search for a new superintendent proceeds.

John Binkley speaks to tour operators, store owners, and government officials. Jeff Brady

Binkley: Cruise lines reaching out
Skagway still concerned about onboard shopping programs

John Binkley, president of the new Alaska Cruise Association, joked that he felt like a preacher as he stood before the old McCabe College pews filled with the flock in Skagway City Hall. But he learned that even the faithful have concerns.
Skagway was one of the few communities that rejected the hotly debated cruise initiative and statewide head tax last August, but, Binkley noted, “most of Alaskans did support it.” The vote was a real eye-opener for the cruise industry, he said, such that it recently created its own Alaska-based association – tapping a life-long tour operator as president – to go out and listen to the people.
“They get it –” he said, “that they need to make some improvements.”
Binkley grew up with Fairbanks tour pioneers Jim and Mary Binkley, and even captained the Riverboat Discovery for a few years before turning the operation over to his own son. He represented Bethel in the legislature and was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, losing in last August’s Republican primary to Sarah Palin. He remains chair of the board of the Alaska Railroad Corp.
Binkley said his family has benefited from the cruise industry and he has seen benefits to communities and the state, so he was pleased when he was asked to head the new ACA.
He is currently traveling around the state, listening to people, and will prepare a report with recommendations to the eight cruise lines that formed ACA. “I will suggest substantive changes that I hope they will adopt,” he said. “I’m here to seek your thoughts.”
As people spoke, he jotted notes on a small pad.
Tour operator Steve Hites said his theory on why the initiative passed was that the cruise lines’ ad campaign against it was overkill.
“People perceived it as big industry paying for big ads and steamrolling everyone,” he said.
In the Caribbean, where he operates a tourist railroad on St. Kitts, he works with a similar grassroots and community-based organization that connects to the industry. He said the ACA needs to be all-inclusive, working with governments and merchants, to be effective.
“I think this (ACA) is an excellent idea, the missing link,” Hites said.
Binkley said the “unvarnished truth” is what he is after, and then asked how Skagway viewed the onboard shopping program.
Merchant Dennis Corrington gave him the region’s history with the program – how Skagway merchants initially resisted it but succumbed when Ketchikan accepted it. However, he said he would love to see it go away.
Hites said the program was put in place on the ships to prevent the underhanded practice of kickbacks from merchants to cruise directors that mentioned their stores in the 1970s and 1980s. PPI and Onboard Media took on the programs, which include live onboard lectures, in-room TV spots, and maps to selected stores. But it was pointed out that the programs are only available to those larger stores that can afford the negotiable “port fees” that are collected with each visit. Small stores have been unable to compete, said Lynnette Roseberg, president of the Chamber of Commerce, which receives complaints about the “guarantees” that go with the program.
Corrington said the onboard agencies and their employees “follow the money,” using subliminal directives to bring people into the marketplace. “It’s not a level playing field and it’s greased with money,” he said.
The maps do have disclaimers about being paid promotional fees, but one of the sections of the initiative said the type should be boosted to 14-point. It also said tour operators who receive commissions from the ships should have that information displayed in a similar format for the visitor to see.
Tour operators at the Skagway meeting said the bad blood over the onboard shopping programs spilled over to them. “Now, we are paying the price,” said Karen Hess, who is fighting disclosure legislation in Juneau.
The discussion then turned to the environment.
Mavis Henricksen suggested that the cruise tax go toward a Southeast electrical intertie that would allow ships to hook up at every port, cutting down on stack emissions. Princess and Holland America have the technology and are using it in Seattle, but only one ship at a time can hook up in Juneau.
Binkley said Alaska now has the toughest environmental standards in the world for wastewater discharges, and ships have adapted, but the perception is still out there that the industry is not clean.
Beth Cline of the WP&YR said perceptions about the industry need to change, and said there needs to be better public relations on what the industry contributes to communities.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said other lines should follow Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s lead in providing scholarships for Skagway graduates. Money from RCCL for the climbing wall and from Holland America for the ski race also were well-received.
Binkley closed by saying he has “a passion and belief in the industry” and that Alaskans can help enhance it.

SCHOOL: District submits $1.884 million budget

The Skagway City School Board has approved its FY08 proposed budget, based on a projected enrollment of 100 students. The final total for the operating budget is $1,884, 338.
Expenditures were reduced by about $30,000 over the past two weeks with some cuts to the activities budget and adjustments to PERS/TRS, as well as a switch to a “sweep account” that improved the revenue side of the ledger. The budget is still a guess in regard to what money may come from the state foundation formula and PERS/TRS relief from the state legislature. A forward funding bill also is on the move in Juneau, having passed the Senate, but it would only affect 2009 budgets.
Superintendent Michael Dickens said the district is presenting a conservative budget to avoid the shortfall it ran into this winter when enrollment dropped. Last year’s budget was based on a projected 107 students, and the final fall count of 99.5 forced the district to seek emergency funds from the city’s timber reserve account (see City Digest).
This year’s funding request to the city for operating funds has been pushed to the state cap of $1,053,505, and is about $97,850 more than last year. In addition the city has been asked to fund $119,689 for activities, $42,726 for food service, and $42,821 for technology. All of those annual special requests were reduced from FY07 amounts by a few thousand dollars.
Dickens pointed out that the city has never funded to the state cap, which was much higher in previous years.
“What we are asking the city to do is go up to the (new) cap,” he said.
City Councilmember Tom Cochran, the city’s new liaison to the school board, was present for the budget work session and special meeting April 10. At first glance, he said that all but $20,000 of the requested $97,500 increase to the city covers a 25 percent bump in health insurance premiums by Blue Cross. He said he did not think the district was asking for a lot more.
Dickens and school board members said they were doing what they could to preserve quality programs, but a loss in grant funding for physical education and foreign language teachers will reduce staff next year. Elementary teachers will pick up some of the P.E. program elements, but Spanish may have to be replaced with Japanese, funded through another grant, Dickens said.
Dickens noted that the five-year waiting period has expired since the music program’s reduction in force (RIF), and the district could advertise for a new music teacher without having to hire the previous teacher, who was at a high salary. But he also cautioned that if they were to hire a new music teacher, and then enrollment dropped further with a large senior class graduating next year, they might have to get rid of the program again.
Board members said there is support in the community for music.
“The music (curriculum) was well received,” said Board President Chris Ellis. “It has not worked well as an after-school program.”
Members then turned to Cochran, asking him if they could ask the city for additional money for a music teacher.
Cochran said it would not hurt to mention it, “The worse they can do is say no.... Put music in the letter.”
Members said having a city liaison there was useful, and that problems with past communication between the city and the district should be over. They honed in on the fact that former City Manager Bob Ward had not moved on the exit door project last summer, leaving it to this year.
“Part of the breakdown just left town,” Ellis said, adding that some on the council in the past have tended to want to micro-manage the district.
Part of the problem, Cochran noted, is that “our only dialog has been at budget time.”
But Dickens closed by saying the city has been “very supportive and we usually get what we ask for.” – JEFF BRADY

CITY: School shortfall covered

Skagway City School Superintendent Michael Dickens addressed the council, asking for appropriations to pay for unexpected maintenance costs within the school building and money to offset shortfalls in the budget due to enrollment dropping below 102 students.
Dickens explained when the FY07 budget was drawn up, it was expected there would be more than 102 students enrolled. Because those expectations did not come to fruition, state funding was reduced by $122,365. The school also requested additional funds to cover a total shortfall of $157,704. Dickens asked that the money come from the Timber Reserve Fund, which the city has set aside for education emergencies.
Councilmember Tom Cochran explained the difficulty the school faces when planning a budget. He said it is a “random” process because there is no way to know future enrollment when the budget is planned. Dickens said when planning next year’s budget they will use the smaller enrollment numbers in an effort to ensure the shortfall does not happen again.
The city moved to appropriate the money from the Timber Fund, which passed unanimously.
The second issue dealt with funding the construction of two new exit doors and replacing money spent to fix the school’s sprinkler system. Recent repairs to a broken dry pipe cost the school district $22,813, and the expected cost of the exit door project is $30,000.
Councilmembers said a budget amendment ordinance would be drawn up to pay for the items, but Hunz and Mayor Tim Bourcy asked that in the future, Dickens approach the council for funding before repairs are made.
“I agree with Dave on that. We obviously aren’t going to not fund the sprinkler system repairs, but knowing that that is coming would be good,” Bourcy said. “My pet peeve is when we start doing programs that are created and not budgeted for.”
The council will include funding for a complete sprinkler system overhaul during the next budget cycle at an unofficial cost of $50,000. – ANDREW CREMATA



Greg Eagan, right, applauds Skagway Spelling Bee champ Brandy Mayo after she spelled the winner, "pretzel". Andrew Cremata

HEARD ON THE WIND: Early start to the season... (April 20, 2007)

• FISH THIS!: Reconnecting with the past

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