Letters to the Editor

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002

Budget cuts hurt some, diminish quality of life for all Alaskans

How many of your readers have put together the "Buck stops with 22nd Legislature" (March 11) with the "Lawmakers leave cold behind for glitz of Vegas" (March 10)?

The first, written by Rep. Mike Chenault, talks about prudent spending by the state and about a need for government to make careful, responsible choices. The second article, naming the same legislator, has him in Las Vegas, golfing and/or gambling, being wined and dined during a lobbyist-organized weekend. I suspect that the three were also still also receiving state per diem. Is there anything wrong with this picture?

House leaders want Alaskans to "feel pain" and so, of course, the literal way to do this is to cut Denali KidCare insurance to children and pregnant women. This might only affect around 3,500 children and 700 pregnant women directly, but many of us not in this category can well imagine how critical this is to those who need care.

Healthy children and families in our communities are a great economic asset in both the short and long run. And the other irony is that more than 70 cents of every dollar spent on this program is federal money, also our money, that we are turning back.

Closing Captain Cook State Park and other parks loved and frequented by us locals and having no food inspections are just a few others that will help us "feel pain."

Most of the cuts will not hurt me directly (or maybe you either), but anything that diminishes the lives of my neighbors, takes away from this wonderful community in which I am honored to live.

Susan Smalley


Fish board process not conducive to participation by individuals

A recent column by the executive director of the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association takes exception with three local residents' opinion on new Kenai River chinook salmon catch and release fishing regulations in the Kenai River. KRSA's position appears to be that local residents should have participated in the full Board of Fisheries process. If they did not, they should not publicly comment on the board's regulations or those who took positions in favor of the regulations.

With over 22 years of experience as a biologist (20 with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) working in Upper Cook Inlet, I have attended over 20 board meetings. I think I can provide some input on the recent board process and why it is difficult for local residents to participate.

The board meeting is divided into four major parts. First, the Department of Fish and Game presents staff reports and then the public gives testimony, which can take two to five days to complete. Second, the board forms a number of committees and proposals are grouped within specific committee topics. The committee discussion takes two to four days. Third, board members write the committee reports which can take two days to prepare, and finally the board hears the committee reports and starts deliberations. This can take two to four days. Thus, in upper Cook Inlet the total process takes approximately 14 days to complete.

The reasons that a local resident cannot participate are easy to understand. Money and process combine to prohibit the average citizen from taking part. As a result, those who participate are mostly affiliated with organizations like KRSA or residents who live in the area of the meeting. Anyone who has stayed in Anchorage knows that costs can reach $100 to $200 per day. Therefore, a local resident who is not affiliated with an organization must pay $1,400 to $2,800 to participate.

Why does one have to stay for the whole meeting? The process requires it. One must hear the Fish and Game staff reports to listen for new information that can impact a proposal. Unfortunately, Fish and Game may not provide all relevant information on a proposal until the board meets. For example, some of the Kenai River habitat information presented at the recent upper Cook Inlet board meeting was not available prior to the meeting.

Second, the committee meetings are intended as an exchange of information. However, special interest groups can give a significant amount of misinformation during the committee process. KRSA, as well as other organizations, were guilty of this but that is another article. In any event, one must try to correct misinformation and provide correct information on proposals of interest.

Also, more than one committee meets at a time so a resident who has multiple concerns must try to run from committee to committee to provide input. This can be very frustrating. Special interest groups have more than one person present so they can interact more effectively.

Board members or Fish and Game staff write the committee report, which can be more than 50 pages in length and there may be three to five reports prepared. Bias from the committee members is very obvious in some reports, errors of omissions take place, and special interest groups try to influence how the reports are written. Review of the reports by all parties is to be completed within 24 to 48 hours of being issued.

Finally, during the debate and regulations phase, the board may write regulation intent language that may not look anything like the proposals discussed in the committee process. This usually takes place in a hurried environment at the end of the meeting. One must be there to see how and why something happened. In addition, only during breaks of the board can a citizen talk to a board member about a misstatement or if the member needs additional information for argument.

In summary, for KRSA and the executive director to take to task local residents for not attending the meeting is unfair. It would only be a fair statement if they paid their own costs and participated as individuals. It would be interesting for KRSA to state how much it spent preparing for, paying consultants and participating in the upper Cook Inlet board process. This may put into perspective why local residents have a hard time attending.

While it is not KRSA's fault that the board process is broken, KRSA should understand why local residents are frustrated and angry. The issue is: Who represents local residents who are not part of a group?

As a side note, the individuals referenced negatively in the article are following a public process. It is called the process of public opinion and they have a right to express their views. In addition, they can influence the board by filing a petition for reconsideration. It appears the executive director of KRSA decided to shoot the messenger about a failed public process rather than helping to make the process better.

Kenneth E. Tarbox


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