JUNEAU (AP) -- Legislative committees approved consulting contracts Tuesday that would steer more than $200,000 to an oil and gas expert, a longtime consultant on the divisive subsistence issue, and a former state official hired for his expertise on various state and federal issues.
The largest contract, for $137,000, was with Patrick Coughlin, an oil and gas attorney currently employed by the Department of Natural Resources as deputy director of the Division of Oil and Gas. Coughlin will be paid $20,000 a month from money controlled by the Senate Rules Committee.
He'll report to Sen. John Torgerson, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee.
''The decisions related to the proposal for a natural gas pipeline and related infrastructure are some of the most important decisions that this Legislature will face,'' said Torgerson, R-Kasilof. ''We felt it necessary to have someone in-house who is intimately experienced with oil and gas legislation, not only to advise us on the best course of action, but also on Alaska's interests in Washington, D.C.''
Coughlin, 48, was an assistant attorney general representing the Division of Oil and Gas from 1991 until 1996, when he was named deputy director. He was passed over for the director's job at the Division of Oil and Gas recently. He said Torgerson approached him a few days ago.
''He was wondering if I was willing to come and work for the Legislature and it sounded like a good opportunity,'' said Coughlin, who gave his current salary at roughly $100,000 a year. He will leave his current job next month
''The primary focus is going to be on gas line issues,'' Coughlin said. ''In particular advising the Senate Resources Committee on legislation that comes their way or legislation that they may be interested in pursuing.''
The contract was approved by the Rules Committee without objection after Chairwoman Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, assured Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, that the products of Coughlin's work would be available to all the Resource Committee's members.
The committee also approved a $50,000 contract for Emil Notti, a former commissioner of the Department of Community and Regional Affairs, an agency merged into the current Department of Community and Economic Development.
Notti, who is also a former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, was brought in to advise the House and Senate on statewide issues, especially those affecting both rural Alaska Natives and urban residents, said Senate President Rick Halford.
''Emil's ability to work with communities throughout the state will be a significant asset to the Legislature as we work on rural and federal issues,'' said Halford, R-Chugiak. His contract was also approved without objection.
Notti, who was involved in negotiations leading to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, will be paid $50 an hour. He'll report to Ted Popely, legal counsel to the House and Senate majorities.
Debate over a contract before the House Rules Committee was more acrimonious. Minority Whip Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, objected to a new $50,000 contract with Ron Somerville, a longtime consultant to the Legislature's Republican majority.
Somerville has advised GOP lawmakers on divisive issues including the rural subsistence priority, the Venetie Indian country lawsuit and the state's current appeal of the landmark Katie John ruling -- all topics that pitted members of the majority against rural Alaska Natives.
''He represents the Legislature, I'm a member of that Legislature, and he doesn't represent me,'' Joule said after the contract allowing Somerville to bill the Legislature $50 an hour passed 4-3.
Joule, House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, and Republican Vic Kohring of Wasilla voted no.
''I'm wonder what work the gentleman is doing that could not be done by others,'' asked Kohring, the Legislature's most zealous budget hawk.
Popely, who oversees Somerville's work, touted Somerville's encyclopedic knowledge of state-federal relations, including questions of sovereignty and land access, and noted his work in the negotiation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
''He has a vast lifetime of experience in state and federal issues,'' Popely said.
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