Glorious Morning

Assembly of God Pastor Steve Smith preaches to those assembled for the Easter sunrise service at Pullen Park. The Presbyterian Church and St. Terese Catholic Church joined with the Assembly of God to celebrate Easter. Dimitra Lavrakas

Mayor's ordinance would disband present EDC
Replacement would be resurrected as private non-profit

In a move to disband the city’s Economic Development Commission, on Friday the 13th, Mayor John Mielke directed City Manager Bob Ward to draft an ordinance to create a non-profit commission that, according to a letter from Mielke, would “give the new EDC the freedom to operate independent of the City and also the flexibility to raise funds with fewer constraints that they currently face as part of the municipality.”
Saying that the commission staff’s “unwillingness or inability to take directions or work with manager and staff” has caused tensions within the city government, Mielke wrote that, while a drastic step, he believed there is still a strong need for economic development here.
The breaking point in the relationship between the EDC board and its director, Candice Wallace, and City Hall seemed to be the investigation resulting from an inquiry made by KHNS Radio reporter Amanda Stossel. In her inquiry, Stossel said a friend wanted to know where to go if they had questions about alleged possible embezzlement and illegal hire by city employees. She was referred to the White Collar Crime Unit or the Governor’s Office. The Troopers called the Skagway Police Department , and Police Chief Dennis Spurrier conducted an investigation, determined there was no validity, and closed the case. In response to lingering concerns, Mielke ordered an audit of city finances that will commence April 23.
In a special meeting last Saturday, EDC board members expressed frustration and dismay over the Mayor’s move.
There were also questions.
Commission member Keith Knorr said he didn’t understand how the new EDC would be independent of the city if the ordinance calls for the seven board members to be selected by the city’s Civic Affairs Committee and approved by the city council, and since the commission would receive financial support from the city.
While the proposed ordinance does provide financial assistance for the commission to develop articles of incorporation and bylaws, and to apply for non-profit status, it does not allocate money for staff hire.
Should the commission apply for grant funding for a staff, they would not be considered city employees, according to the ordinance.
But the ordinance was changed this week before the city council meeting on Thursday. The city council would no longer have to approve the board’s goals, the Civic Affairs Committee will still recommend board candidates, but, as with other city committees and commissions, the mayor would make the appointments with the council’s approval, and the commission will establish the executive director’s role and responsibilities.
John Tronrud, EDC commission chair, said the ordinance effectively removes the EDC from any day-to-day interaction with City Hall.
“It gives the group the ability to go out and apply for grants and do projects without the blessing of the city council,” said Tronrud. “There’s no guarantee there will be financial support from the city.”
He wondered what will happen to the projects the commission is presently working on that are “floundering.”
There were some comments about the projects going as far as the commission could take them, and that the “wheels of the city don’t always run quickly.”
Knorr suggested that the board work with the new board so they “won’t reinvent the wheel.”
Another sore point was the EDC’s annual report, criticized by Councilmember Tim Bourcy as inadequate and unprofessional at the council’s April 5 meeting.
At the EDC special meeting, Bourcy addressed the problems he had with the report.
He said his frustration stemmed from the report’s lack of focus, and that it didn’t outline where the commission was going and its goals.
Wallace agreed the report needed more work, and that she ran into trouble last fall when her computer got a virus and her work was destroyed. She also said she was not told what the format should be.
“I will get a format from the council that’s acceptable and I will do a report that fits that format,” Wallace said.
Tronrud said he also saw the report before it went out and was not happy about it, but the deadline was the next day.
Wallace also agreed the board should have seen the first one before it was submitted to the council.
Dennis Corrington, in support of Wallace, said she had given him five business leads in the last year.
In response to the ordinance, the EDC board decided to write a letter to the mayor and scheduled a meeting for Tuesday evening. However, that meeting was canceled after it was decided to wait until after the April 19 city council meeting, and after reviewing the recent changes to the ordinance.
There was some exchange between the board and Mark Nadeau, who wrote a commentary in this paper in the last edition that questioned if the EDC was doing its job. Wallace said after the meeting that she would respond to Nadeau about his concerns, but that it would not be for publication.
At the council’s April 5 meeting, (see Letters to the Editor section on page 2) Mayor Mielke addressed resident Angelina Harris’s letter about his response to the investigation.
“It’s my sworn duty to protect the rights of every citizen,” said Mielke in his report to the council. “When you talk about embezzlement and illegal hiring practices, that’s something you can’t take back. How do you remove the stink from it?”
Mielke said no one has ever brought those kind of concerns to his attention or the council’s.
“Here’s the place to bring it,” he said. “These people at this table are the people to talk to if there’s wrongdoing.
“I have a difficult time figuring where we’re going in this community. This has got to be the most difficult time in this job I’ve ever had. Somehow, we’re going to get through this stuff and pull together. And it’s not even summer yet.”
Mielke said people could call him at home, at work or stop him on the street if they have concerns.
Tronrud said during the public comment section that with all the turmoil in city government, that the Troopers caused a problem for the community, and thought the city should receive an apology from them.
Karen Gee, EDC staff member, said she was going to make comments about the city audit, but as it was a done deal, she pointed out that decisions like that should be made in public.
Jan Nelson, said there must be a basis for the concern, and questioned why the Police Department brought the complaint to the “accused.” He also asked if the city had any provisions for whistleblowers.
Peterson and Solomon of Seattle, auditors for the city’s yearly audit, will be conducting the audit.
The reasoning behind using the same auditors, said City Manager Bob Ward, is they are familiar with the city’s books, will know what to look for, and will not jeopardize their reputation in order to protect anyone at City Hall.

McCabe contractor files suit for $1.73 million
Attempt at mediated settlement is next step

Alaska Building Contractors of Anchorage have filed a suit against the City of Skagway for $1.73 million for contract violations by the City if Skagway and its agent, Koonce, Pfeffer and Bettis, Inc.
ABC was chosen as the general contractor to carry out the McCabe Building renovation and addition in 1999 with an initial completion date of February 2000.
By September of 2000, City Manager Bob Ward said the McCabe project was not fully completed, but ABC owner Pat Wolfe said 89 percent was completed.
City offices moved in after health and safety issues were resolved, and the museum began moving in once the sprinkler system was in place to protect the permanent collection.
The suit alleges that the city breached its contract by not preparing plans and specifications that were accurate and reasonable, failing to adhere to a payment schedule, and that by not adhering to that schedule, caused ABC to default on their obligations to laborers, subcontractors and suppliers “causing irreparable harm to ABC, and ultimately leading to the complete devastation of their business.”
The first move would be towards a mediated settlement,” said City Manager Bob Ward.
“We believe we have complied with the contract,” he said.
Last September, before he pulled his company off the job because of the payment dispute, ABC owner Pat Wolfe was asked about the possibility of a suit. Wolfe said believed it would end up in court.
“It’s going to be very expensive, I can tell you that,” he said at the time. “We will be taking it all the way.” – DL

NPS lichen study reveals pollution present here
No clue as wo which source contributes the most

A new study released by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park that traces the chemical pollutants present in local lichens shows that the Skagway area lichens have a “higher levels of heavy metals and sulfur in lichen tissues than baseline values for unpolluted areas of Southeast Alaska.”
The researchers found that Skagway lichens have been exposed to air pollution, particularly sulfur, and the metals cadmium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, and zinc.
The study began in the fall of 1998, when Claudia Rector, biological technician with the Park, began collecting samples. Four sites were chosen – Dewey Lake Trail, Chilkoot Trail, Sturgills Landing, and Dyea.
Linda Geiser, a lichenologist and air quality specialist who worked in the Tongass Forest for many years, also contributed to this study.
It was found there is a difference between the Dewey and Chilkoot sites: Dewey showed more indications of exposure to pollution and lower levels of cadmium, which is an indicator of healthy lichens. Several chemicals exceed the threshold concentrations for the Pacific Northwest.
But, Elaine Furbish one of the study’s researchers and the natural resources specialist for the Park, said they can’t pinpoint the source of pollution.
“We can’t identify the sources from this document,” she said. “Maybe that’s something the community would like to look into.”
The study identifies all the different sources of pollution: homes and businesses exhaust, open-air burn barrels, the incinerator, ferries, barges, small boats, vehicles, diesel train engines, cruise ship stack emissions, and the former transportation of lead and zinc ore concentrates.
Skagway’s location plays a part too, the study said. Although known as the “windy city,” strong southerly winds are usually caused by low pressure systems moving inland from the Gulf of Alaska. Temperature inversions are not uncommon that trap air pollutants in the immediate vicinity of their source, visible as smog.
Also, the study said, because Skagway gets less rainfall than other parts of Southeast, ground surfaces dry out and the dust contributes to pollution.
Researchers chose lichens because of their unique, symbiotic function.
“They’re such neat creatures. They’re so bizarre,” Furbish said. “They’re two organisms, but they’re so integrated they behave and act like one organism. They’re a fungus and a real primitive plant. They don’t have roots or real leaves and have to absorb nutrients from the air.”
In fact, lichen are so extraordinary they are lumped into in their own kingdom, as are the animal and plant kingdoms, by taxonomists, the people whose business it is to classify organisms.
The three lichens used for the study: two tube lichens, Hypogymnia enteromorpha and H. inactiva and a rag lichen, Pastismatia glauca.
“It’s just like sci-fi stuff, and it’s out there on the hillside just next to us,” Furbish said.

Marcia Berry, also know as “The Lady With The Big Pencil,” leaves the Skagway School after 30 years as bookkeeper. Her retirement party saw many parents, children and residents turn out to say goodbye. Dimitra Lavrakas

Bill would cut school funding

Mayor responds by firing a broadside southward

Senate Bill 174, introduced by the Senate Finance committee, would pump more money into most Alaska schools by shutting off state funding to four communities with the highest per-student assessed property value – the North Slope Borough, Valdez, Skagway, and Unalaska.
The districts would be required to raise all of their own basic school funds through local taxes because their property tax bases are so rich. The North Slope would lose $9.8 million, Valdez would lose $1.3 million and Unalaska and Skagway would lose about $500,000 each. That money would raise the per-pupil allocation by $36 from $3,940 to $3,976 for other districts.
“We’re keeping an eye on it,” said Skagway Superintendent James Telles. He’s been in close contact with Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.
“It’ll be crazy if it does come through,” Telles said.
In a letter to Gov. Tony Knowles, state legislators and the Department of Education, Mayor John Mielke reminded them that the City of Skagway pays its share.
“A cursory review of FY00 school budgets around the state show that Alaska’s largest communities of Anchorage and Fairbanks contributed 31.06 percent and 25.89 percent respectively, of their total school budgets from local funds,” Mielke wrote. “On the other hand, the four districts called into question by these pieces of legislation, the North Slope Borough, Valdez, Skagway and Unalaska contributed 60.92 percent, 49.09 percent, 45.19 percent and 49.38 percent respectively.
“As you are aware, Skagway is a first-class city in the unorganized borough that has gone far beyond most other communities in funding much needed municipal services and infrastructure that would customarily be the responsibility of the state. We have accomplished this through a combination of property and sales taxes that have allowed us to fend for ourselves in an era of declining state support of traditional state-held programs.
“We in Skagway are bone weary of these continual allegations, assertions and attacks upon our commitment to funding of education in our community. If anything, we should be held up as an example of how one small community is striving to make the best of a situation in state government that could only be described as a death spiral,” he wrote.
At a news conference April 9, Gov. Knowles called on the Legislature to spend more money on schools at the same time as the Senate Finance Committee was debating the bill.
But Knowles said he would probably veto SB 174 if it reaches his desk because it would take money away from the four districts.
Knowles tried to draw attention once again to his education funding task force’s proposal to add $45 million to schools this year to help students reach state standards and pass a high school graduation exam.
The House added $6.2 million to its school budget and the Senate added $12.4 million, but Knowles said legislators need to do more.
House budget leaders say they’re unsure whether the measure would gain support in their chamber. – THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AND THE SKAGWAY NEWS

PHOTO FEATURE: "Little Orphan Annie!"

EDITORIAL: McCabe Madness

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