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Helpful Public Servant of the Week Award, June 15 2012 June 20, 2012

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Giving the OPSotW Award a break this week – not because I didn’t encounter any, but because I actually talked to some government employees so helpful that they deserve recognition. Not surprisingly, they were not from ’round here.

They’re actually Canadian, and I talked to them about the Alcan Highway closures that took place for several days last week. Even though they were swamped, they were totally willing to talk to a TV reporter from a small market (granted, seeing as they were based out of Whitehorse, Fairbanks is actually a much larger market, relatively speaking) several hundred miles away. When they couldn’t connect me to the people with the best information (usually because they were either at the washout sites themselves or overwhelmed with a variety of duties related to keeping a tent city of a thousand stranded motorists alive and happy), they would call me and apologize. When they did have time to talk, they were forthcoming and well-spoken. Makes me proud to have dual citizenship.

I didn’t get many of their names, but one that I did get was Aisha Montgomery, who is an information officer for the Yukon Territorial Government. Thanks Aisha, and thanks also to those who I spoke to for background. It’s refreshing to not always be herding cats when talking to public sector employees.

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Obstinate Public Servant of the Week Award, June 8 2012 June 12, 2012

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My my, missed a few weeks. My bad.

Last week’s award goes to Robert Bizarro, a project manager with the Fairbanks North Star Borough who’s overseeing a project to redo the roof and repaint the walls of the Pioneer Park Civic Center (you know, the big building that looks like a cake). It’s not an enormously big or special project, but it *is* one you’ll notice if you ever visit the park, and it’s scheduled to cost about $600,000.

After getting the usual runaround from borough staff, I finally got put in touch with Mr. Bizarro as the man to talk to. Talking to him was like pulling teeth, and he repeated several times that, “There’s nothing really important about this,” and things of that nature. And he declined to be interviewed on record. 

To a certain extent, I can understand hesitance to appear on TV – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But come on, man. This is a straightforward piece about a project that will have a moderate impact on folks around town. Answer a question or two, or direct me to someone who will. Don’t treat me like I’ve just stumbled onto the Watergate burglary. Also, while a project that spends 600 grand in tax payer money might not seem that important to you, I assure you that the people of Fairbanks would gladly take that money back if you don’t want it. Over half a million dollars still means something where I come from. Which, I guess, is here. It still means something here.

Obstinate Public Servant of the Week Award, May 6 2012 May 6, 2012

Posted by roothogreport in Fairbanks Government, Local Government, Uncategorized.
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The Obstinate Public Servant of the Week Award for this week goes to Mike Bork, Fairbanks North Star Borough Director of Parks & Recreation. Bork receives this award for dodging six (!) of my phone calls Thursday while I was trying to do a story on potential cuts to his department in the borough budget. Memo to Mr. Bork: I’m aware you probably don’t like talking about your budget getting cut. But you get paid six figures for a reason: not everything you do is going to be something as enjoyable as playing your ukulele. And talking to the press is part of that job as a public servant. You used to be a Marine. Start acting like it.

Honorable Mention goes to Guy Sattley, who was not suffering fools (or anyone else) gladly at Thursday’s Borough Assembly meeting. Homeboy was so grouchy you half expected him to pop up from behind the desk with a trash can lid on his head.

All right, that’s all until next week.

The Sound And The Fury May 4, 2012

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Attended the Borough Assembly meeting last night. I should say I caught about three-fifths of it, as I spent the middle two fifths across town watching my girlfriend accompany a local children’s choir. I wish the meeting had been more like the choir concert – earnest, courteous, and fairly well in harmony. It was none of those things.

I think I’m probably a little over-invested emotionally in the content of borough assembly meetings because I grew up here and it’s a very important place to me. That said, the increased partisanship on display both from the assembly and those coming to testify is depressing in the extreme. Everything with a fiscal impact has at least two “no” votes guaranteed (and usually two “yeas” as well). Everything relating to taxes or regulation has three of each. To crib from Chinua Achebe, it’s not that the center cannot hold – it’s that the center took its ball and went home a couple years ago. It’s even more distressing to see that on a local level than it is on a national one, somehow.

Because the people who are calling the other side “communists” and saying they’re “putting a gun to our head” aren’t from some other state where they’re all crazy. They’re our friends and neighbors, and the people we count on to make this a community worth living in. But lately it doesn’t seem like many of them want a community at all – judging from testimony last night, it seems like what a lot of people want is for their property to be the Republic of Them, where they can do whatever the hell they want on the land without being taxed for it, and if you want a library or an animal shelter you can bugger off because they don’t use those services, so you shouldn’t get them either.

It’s hard to be called the enemy by your neighbor.

Special Session: Looking Back May 2, 2012

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Another special session in the can, and there are two very different ways to look at it.

The first: The special session was an abject failure by all parties involved, and Alaska will suffer for it.

  • The Governor pushed a new, ill-conceived and very poorly researched oil tax bill that wasted everyone’s time. Then, just as abruptly, he pulled it from consideration, killing the subject of 80 percent of the legislature’s efforts this session. Not exactly a strong move, politically or otherwise.
  • Once the oil tax issue was off the table, the Senate took their toys and went home. This is a little more understandable, since realistically it was very unlikely that they could make any progress on either a) a new oil tax bill that they drafted themselves in the remainder of the special session, or b) House Speaker Chenault’s HB 9 bullet line bill, which was DOA in the Senate. That’s because, as a large-diameter gas line proponent said to me earlier this year, it would have been fantastically expensive, the gas wouldn’t have been any cheaper than existing options, it wouldn’t have spur lines to the communities (Fairbanks, interior villages) that need energy relief most, and it would take gas from a place that has gas to another place that has gas. Maybe that makes sense if you’re Mike Chenault and you want to insure against the possibility that the USGS, Buccaneer Energy, and Furie are all wrong about there being massive gas reserves in the Inlet, but it’s a hard sell to most other people, especially ones outside the Anchorage bowl who would see very little benefit. But back to the Senate – even if it was the right call to close up shop early, was there any good reason not to at least have a conversation beforehand with House leadership, just so they wouldn’t complain about you blindsiding them?
  • The House, after the Senate left them with nothing on the agenda, pouted for a few days and then decided to end the session, call a press conference where they trashed the Senate, then went home. Seems like they could have done that last Thursday without the five-day wait and the associated (estimated) $200,000 cost to taxpayers.

All right, so that’s the glass-half-empty perspective. Here’s the glass-half-full: All things considered, having come out of the session with the oil tax structure unchanged and no concrete gas line plans isn’t nearly the worst thing that could have happened. The oil tax cut that Gov. Parnell pushed, if passed, would have put the state deep into the red with no guarantee that production would ever pick up enough that we would enjoy the same kind of state revenues that we do now. I don’t think anyone’s really heartbroken it didn’t pass. And as to the gas line, what if the legislature had passed HB 9 (or something like it, any kind of North Slope to Cook Inlet bullet line bill) and then this summer Buccaneer’s and Furie’s estimates of at least a few trillion feet of gas in Cook Inlet are borne out? That doesn’t seem unlikely, and then we’ve potentially dumped a lot of money into something that is now completely purposeless and economically irrelevant.

I’m somewhere in between those two positions. I think everyone involved could have done their jobs better, but given the other possible scenarios, status quo seems okay – for now. Over the next several months we’ll get more data on the state of Alaska’s gas supply, world gas demand, and the nature of the Point Thomson settlement and whether a large-diameter gas line is really in the offing. That should do a lot to add clarity to the picture when things get rolling again in January.

State of the State: A Quick Thought January 20, 2010

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Just got done watching Gov. Parnell’s first State of the State. I’ll go into what he said in more depth later, but for now, just a note on the overall impression he made on me:

It’s surprising how different it feels to have our Governor give a speech where all of the statements make sense and the ideas flow logically from one to the next. Where the national media doesn’t deconstruct every statement, and where it’s clear there’s no major hidden agenda relating to his career. In short, a cogent speech, the focus of which is Alaska and not the speaker.

Even if I’m not always with him 100% on policy, I had forgotten how nice it feels to have a full-time Governor.

Facebook Is Weird Sometimes January 18, 2010

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No, I am not interested in the baby giraffe you just adopted.

Sorry, not interested, Ethan. What's next, Mafia Wars?

I mean, I guess he must not have anything better to do these days, but still?

Student Government: Valuable Experience or Sideshow? April 11, 2009

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Joe Blanchard prepares for an interview after winning a seat on the Fairbanks Borough Assembly.  Blanchard is a past president of the UAF student government, or ASUAF.

Joe Blanchard prepares for an interview after winning a seat on the Fairbanks Borough Assembly. Blanchard is a past president of the UAF student government, known as ASUAF.

Sorry for my absence over the course of the last month.  I’ve been sidelined for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with reporting I’m doing on the student government at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  I’ve been doing a series of stories for the UAF paper – the Sun Star – on the efforts of some members of the student senate to remove the student president.  The experience got me thinking about student government and its relation to “actual” politics.  Is it a jumping-off point where future politicians can get their feet wet, or is it a backwater where political science majors with no hope of a career in real politics can stroke their egos and hold rein over their own little corner of the universe?

More after the jump.

(more…)

Facebook, You Wag… March 8, 2009

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The “People You May Know” tool on Facebook keeps telling me to add Don Young as a friend.

I’m not sure about that. Don Young’s friends aren’t always a group of which I want to be a part.

Houston, We Have A Stimulus February 14, 2009

Posted by roothogreport in Executive, Legislature.
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I’m feeling pretty sick right now (head cold), but I doubt I feel as sick as Sarah Palin.  You see, the stimulus just passed the Senate, and now she gets to choose whether or not to eat her anti-stimulus rhetoric and take the money allocated to Alaska.  And she’d better make up her mind quickly, or at least within 45 days…

I also ran across a rumor going about that there is some secret clause in the stimulus requiring registration for all guns.  This is patently untrue, from what I was able to find out – the one major gun-related item in the package appears to be enforcement money for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to attempt to stem the flow of illegal guns into Mexico.  Which doesn’t sound like universal registration to me, but then I just belong to the regular NRA and not the tinfoil-hat NRA.  As most of the residents of Alaska carry their tinfoil-hat NRA badge with pride, however, I expect to see this rumor spread like wildfire.