UNDER WRAPS

Jeff Mull and Jeff Litter of Jewell Construction stretch a plastic cover over the front of the historic Arctic Brotherhood Hall during a light snowfall on Monday, Nov. 8. Alaska’s most photographed building will wear this plastic cover until next spring while workers repair and replace more than 8,000 pieces of historic driftwood on the face of the building. Jeff Brady

Record year for Skagway

Cruisers way up, ferries down a bit

The 2004 summer season arrival statistics have been tallied, showing Skagway recorded its highest visitor count ever: 857,405.
That’s a 9.72 percent increase over last year, according to figures compiled by the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau. The largest increase came in the number of cruise ship passengers, a nearly 13 percent jump from 639,742 in 2003 to 722,095 in 2004.
“We were very pleased with the numbers this year, and if you throw in crew, we are well over one million visitors,” said Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue.
Modest increases were posted on the highway and railroad, but ferry and air passenger arrivals were down slightly.
The border station counted 77,837 arriving passengers, up from 74,750 in 2003, but nowhere near the 90,000 to 100,000 numbers of the late 1990s. The WP&YR railroad recorded 13,187 arriving passengers from its Fraser trains, up 122 over the previous year. The railroad overall carried a record 404,722, but most of those were tour passengers already counted in the cruise ship arrival total.
Ferry traffic on the Alaska Marine Highway was down 2.7 percent from 23,814 to 23,171. Donahue said that while the introduction of the fast vehicle ferry Fairweather resulted in more arrivals, there were two days a week when there was no direct ferry connection between Skagway and Haines, and that affected the numbers.
In addition, numbers on the Haines-Skagway shuttle passenger vessels operated by Chilkat Cruises and Tours were down significantly, from 23,724 to 15,069. Air arrivals to Skagway were down from 6,340 in 2003 to 6,046 in summer 2004.
The Skagway Visitor Center at A.B. Hall had a record year, passing the 100,000 mark for the first time. Donahue thanked assistant Karen Ward and his staff, which he noted has remained at the same level as when it handled 20,000 visitors at previous confines on Fifth Avenue.
Donahue said he expects a slight increase next year, based on a look at a preliminary cruise schedule which shows the only new ship, the Universe Explorer, returning on Saturdays after a two-year hiatus. – JB

Skagway bucks statewide tide
Supports Kerry, Knowles, pot; Kookesh wins big, Thomas leading June

By JEFF BRADY
Skagway voters turned out in record numbers for a general election Nov. 2 and opted for change in the White House and U.S. Senate, but their votes were just a blip in the statewide tallies that helped return President George W. Bush and Sen. Lisa Murkowski to Washington, D.C.
In addition to supporting John Kerry for president and Tony Knowles for senator, Skagway also sided with Democrats Albert Kookesh and Tim June in the races for seats in Alaska Legislature. Kookesh was a big winner for a State Senate seat, but June trailed Haines neighbor Bill Thomas in the House District 5 race, which awaits the final counting of absentee ballots.
The lone Republican victor in Skagway was veteran U.S. Rep. Don Young, a big winner here and statewide. And Skagway voters approved all four propositions, from legalizing pot and banning bear baiting, to setting new rules for statewide petition drives and filling vacant senate seats. Just the latter two propositions passed statewide.
When polls closed, 404 ballots were counted in the Skagway Accuvote machine. In addition, approximately 90 absentee ballots from Skagway were sent to Juneau, along with 26 questioned ballots (mostly from persons who registered for the presidential election that day) and two special needs ballots, said election supervisor Marj Harris.
The number of Skagway voters will have beaten the 2000 general election total by several votes. Turnout in the three previous presidential elections had been between 350 and 400. Adding the absentees and questioned ballots, total turnout from Skagway would have been around 520, about 40 votes shy of the recent record turnout for a contentious municipal election.
Voting officials said everyone was well-behaved. A poll watcher from the Knowles campaign was observing most of the day. The only glitch came when the Accuvote machine quit reading for a few minutes when there was a line-up around 1 p.m. Those 18 ballots that were not read were placed in a hold box on the side of the machine and run through the counter when polls closed at 8 p.m.
It didn’t take long for the totals to come spitting out of the machine on a piece of paper that every election official signed. Results were then transmitted by phone line to Juneau.
Skagway supported Kerry (207 votes) over Bush (165) and Green candidate Ralph Nader (15). Other candidates totaled 13 votes. Bush won Alaska’s three electoral votes easily with 61.7 percent of the vote to Kerry’s 34.9 percent and 1.5 percent from Nader.
Turnout was high all over the state, due mainly to the most spirited and competitive U.S. Senate race in a quarter century between former Gov. Knowles and Sen. Murkowski, who was appointed to the seat vacated two years ago by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Voters in Skagway were tired of the phone calls and negative ads from both campaigns, but sided with Democrat Knowles by a 215 to 149 margin over Murkowski. Green Party candidate Jim Sykes was a distant third with 14 votes here. Lisa Murkowski was boosted by support from Young and Sen. Ted Stevens over the final weeks of the campaign, and she led Knowles all night, finishing with 49 percent of the vote to 45 percent for the Democrat. Non-partisan candidate Marc Millican polled 3 percent and Sykes just under 1 percent.
Like Kerry, Knowles waited until the following afternoon to concede the numbers did not look good for him. He trailed by more than 10,300 votes, despite a potential for 40,000 absentee ballots to come in over the next week.

Election official Don Hather pins a button on a voter while others visit in line at the Skagway polling place. When this photo was taken at 8:45 a.m., more than 85 citizens had already voted. JB

Democrat Tim June is holding out more hope for the absentee count, which starts Nov. 12. He trailed Republican Bill Thomas by 89 votes after all precincts in House District 5 were tallied last week.
June said he would not comment on the results until all ballots were counted over the next two weeks, but Thomas was getting ready to join the Republican majority. On Wednesday, he was encouraged to fly up to Anchorage for party organizational meetings, hoping to land chairmanship of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, and seats on Fisheries and Resources committees.
June won Skagway with 216 votes compared to 173 for Thomas. The Republican’s only visit here was the Saturday before the election, and in a phone interview Wednesday, Thomas said he wished he could have worked Skagway and a couple other communities harder. He thanked everyone who turned out in Skagway, whether they voted for him or not.
As such, Thomas did win Haines by a sizable (520-372) margin, along with Craig, Hoonah, Kake, Klawock, and Metlakatla. Thomas said he thinks June’s negative campaign hurt the Democrat in Haines. June carried Cordova, the district’s largest block of voters by a slight margin, and also prevailed in Angoon, Gustavus, Hydaburg, Tenakee and Yakutat.
Thomas said if his lead holds, it will be good for the district. He will be the first Republican elected to the Islands District House seat.
“We’ve been suffering because of money opportunities (not possible in the Democrat minority),” Thomas said. “I hope to get some more capital funds to communities.”
Rep. Kookesh easily jumped to the State Senate, garnering 54.7 percent of the vote in the largest senate district in the United States, to 45 percent by Rep. Carl Morgan (R-Aniak). In Skagway, Kookesh got the most votes of anyone, 286 (73 percent), to 106 for Morgan.
Kookesh replaces retiring Sen. Georgianna Lincoln (D-Rampart) and joins a State Senate where party lines remain the same, 12-8 in favor of Republicans.
Reached by phone in Angoon before he left for minority meetings in Anchorage last week, Kookesh said his hard work campaigning in the Interior was crucial, but it was the Southeast vote that really sealed the victory.
“The districts down here really carried me,” Kookesh said. “I spent most of the summer up there. I needed to do that, it was a new area for me. I gambled a bit that people would remember the work I did down here.”
Morgan, reached in Aniak, said he got a late start in the campaign due to an illness in the family, and he wished he could have met more people during his short time in Skagway last month.
Morgan won 58 percent of the vote in his Interior House district, but lost a few precincts, whereas Kookesh did not lose a single precinct in Southeast, taking 66 percent of the total vote in his current House district.
Heading over to the Senate will be a new experience, Kookesh said, including a move to a bigger office after eight years in a cramped House office, with an additional staff member.
“The Senate’s a whole new area for me,” Kookesh said. “I have four years to figure it out, but I’ll hit the ground running. I’ll talk to Sen. Lincoln and get ideas and advice from her.”
When asked if he will be able to work with a Democratic senator from his district, Thomas said, “It’s going to be the other way around – he’s going to have to work with me. I told him I would stay neutral in his race. He didn’t in mine and endorsed Tim, but I have to get over that. We go back 40 years.”
On the propositions, Skagway voted this way:
• No. 1 - 224 to 150 in favor of initiative/referendum reforms to make petition gatherers work all parts of the state. It passed statewide 51 to 48 percent.
• No. 2 - 241 to 158 in favor of legalizing marijuana. It failed 56 to 43 percent statewide.
• No. 3 - 232 to 162 in favor of a ban on bear baiting. It failed statewide 58 to 41 percent.
• No. 4 - 210 to 170 in favor of requiring an election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, rather than appointment by the governor. It passed 55 to 45 percent statewide.

UPDATE - As of the Nov. 12 and 15 counting of absentee ballots, Thomas's lead had grown over June to 105 votes. Details in Nov. 24 issue. For updated results see: http://www.state.ak.us/local/04generalelectionlinks.html

New Chief Ray Leggett strives for ‘community approach’

By JEFF BRADY
New Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett came to Alaska from Texas for a change of pace. He immediately liked what he saw in the town and its department, and has some ideas for “pulling back the blue curtain” to better engage the community.
Leggett, 44, arrived just after Labor Day with his wife Cheri and children Mitchell, Ashlei, Nathaniel, Matthew, Timothy. They range in age from 14 to four months. Likening the move north to “The Beverly Hillbillies,” they crammed into a van with two dogs, followed a moving truck as far as the barge terminal in Seattle, and then continued on up the road to Skagway.
“I’m here in Alaska where my kids can walk to the grocery store,” he said. “That would not have happened where I lived before.”
Leggett said he grew up the son of a law enforcement officer in Amarillo and seemed destined for a similar career. Over the past 23 years, he has worked in all facets of law enforcement: patrol, narcotics, crime scene and criminal investigations, and administration. He even graduated from the FBI Academy but being in the bureau did not work out, he said. For the past 15 years, he was with the Denton County Sheriff’s Dept., just outside metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth. As a lieutenant, he was in charge of a S.W.A.T. team, dive team, missing children’s unit, and narcotics task force.
“We lived in a nice community, but you still had the backdraft of all the things going on in a metroplex,” he said.
When he saw the ad for the Skagway police chief job on the Internet, the life-long Texan put in his application.
“I always wanted to go to Alaska,” Leggett said. “It’s beautiful here, the weather is gorgeous, and the pace of living is better than high speed metro.”
Leggett has seen the transition from summer to winter, evidenced from a full page of police blotter items in the paper to just a few items every two weeks. But he said there’s plenty of in-house activity, and no one is bored.
“It’s like the story of the black swan going across the water, it looks so smooth, but underneath its feet are going like crazy,” Leggett explained.
In winter, the officers and staff ratchet down the pace a bit and attend to things that take more time, like rearranging the office and setting up programs for next summer.
“My philosophy is see what we can do more of, see what we can do less of, and see what we can do instead of,” Leggett said. “Look at what went on and how we can do things more efficiently.”
One area where he noticed there could be improvement was in policing the downtown area in the summertime – and he has proposed a Police Bicycle Program that has won the support of the Skagway City Council.
For an estimated cost of between $2,000 and $2,500 for a specialized bike and uniform, SPD will have an officer patrolling from the Historic District to the docks starting next summer. Leggett said a police bike expert from Fairbanks, with whom he attended the FBI Academy, will come down to train officers for just his expenses. The focus mainly will be on the two seasonal officers, he said, but all need to be trained. Skagway will have a bicycle-mounted officer who can respond quickly downtown, while a regular patrol works the outer areas.
In addition to the quicker response time, the community and tourists will be in better contact with police.
“It’s a great way for engaging the community,” Leggett said. “People will spend a lot more time talking to an officer on a bike than in a squad car.”
Leggett said he was impressed right away with the “professional camaraderie” of the officers and staff of the Skagway Police Department.
“I’ve been around a lot of high speed cops, and these guys are top shelf,” he said. “There’s not one person here who doesn’t go above and beyond. I’m very impressed with that.”
Leggett acknowledged he was aware of some trust issues that developed in the past between the department and the community. Individual contact with officers is mostly positive, he said, but people don’t always understand the professional side of their job.
Through a Citizens Academy later this winter, he wants to show the community how things work. People can sign up, and for one evening a week learn from an officer what goes on during everything from a routine traffic stop to the use of force.
“Basically, we’re trying to pull back that blue curtain and let people see that we’re people too,” Leggett said.

POLICE CHIEF RAY LEGGETT

Skagway police officers are way more service-oriented than where he came from, and the dispatchers and clerks will make an extra call to help people, Leggett said, adding that City Hall staff, from the manager to council members, are approachable, unlike in Texas.
In a post-9/11 world, Skagway has been presented with the challenge of keeping its port secure while maintaining an atmosphere that is friendly toward visitors. If he were an outside consultant coming in to review the situation here, Leggett said he would say, “Skagway has done a good job.”
Leggett credited former Chief Dennis Spurrier and other agency leaders for setting up a “team approach” toward port security that was in place when he arrived. “Everyone lives here and has a personal interest,” he said.
Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Cruise Line Agencies, White Pass, Petro Marine, the National Park Service, various city departments, and even Canada’s RCMP, they have a “relationship platform from the border to the water.”
Last summer, when there was a report of someone trying to purchase a cruise ship crew member’s identification in town, a major investigation kicked in, although no arrests were made.
“It tells you the possibility (of an attack) is always there, but people are on their toes and doing everything they can to prevent it,” he said.
The ships do a good job of screening their own people, but the citizens are the best resources in town. “They know what’s normal and what looks out of place,” he said.
One area that needs improvement for both the fire and police departments, he said, is the 911 system. When a call comes in, all dispatchers can see is a phone number, no physical address. If a person is having a heart attack and drops the phone, there may not always be a dispatcher on the line who knows the voice, or an officer on patrol who knows where the victim lives.
“People don’t live at P.O. boxes,” he said. “The whole idea is we are a service and we want to develop a more appropriate response. It may take time to work out the gymnastics of that, but we all are concerned about it.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WAVE ACTION - Rori Leaverton leads the crowd in a wave between games at the recent Volleyball Tournament in Skagway. Jeff Brady

OTHER ONLINE STORIES

• SPORTS ROUNDUP: Volleyball Tournament and Wrestling update

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