Letters to the Editor

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

Many good reasons to vote 'No' on Proposition 1 about prison

Well, it looks like big money is out in full force. I'm sure you have noticed the expensive red, white and blue signs out on business lots with the "Vote for Prop 1" message on them. Here are some of the reasons I am voting "No" on Proposition 1.

First and foremost I believe the state of Alaska should be responsible for the incarceration of our prisoners. This is the state's legal, political and moral obligation and they should be responsible for owning and operating prison facilities.

Doesn't it make you wonder why they want some other entity taking on that responsibility instead of them? The Kenai Peninsula Borough should not take on any legal or financial responsibilities or be party to any liability as to prisoner litigation. Running a private prison should not be a function of borough government.

The borough has already spent over $160,000 working on and lobbying for this project. We have also approved $110,000 for a prison project manager. It will cost the borough a lot more of your tax dollars and staff work hours if this project is approved in October.

The question is "What will the borough get in return; what are the benefits to the borough?" There will be no tax base to collect property tax, as the building would be built on tax-exempt land. Is this project in the best interest of the borough, or is it in the best interest of some special interest groups or some corporations?

I want to set the record straight, that as far as I am aware there has not been any agreement with Cornell which states how much they would pay employees, what kind of education prisoners would receive, staff training etc. They will give you all kinds of information but no contract between Cornell and the borough has been negotiated for operations.

There has been nothing but contradictory information regarding this project. First, the supporters and Cornell told us, "it will be cheaper for Cornell to run a private prison then for the state to run one or to contract out to Arizona." The fact is the Legislature approved a price of about $87 per day per prisoner. About 20 percent of this would pay for the debt service to pay off revenue bonds. That would leave about $70 per day bed for operations to a private contractor. The state currently is paying $54.57 per day per bed to house our inmates in Arizona.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance report reads that privatization only saves about 1 percent and most of that savings was achieved through lower labor costs, staffing patterns, fringe benefits, undereducated and inadequately trained staff.

Then, the supporters and Cornell said "well, we will bring our Alaskan people back to Alaska so their families can be closer to them to visit." Statistics show that only a very small percentage of families would move to be close to their loved ones.

Since that idea didn't work the next thing they tried was the education and rehabilitation stories. State laws and contracts would mandate what needs to be offered just like they do in publicly run prisons.

The next thing was "if we don't get the prison here on the peninsula, someone else will." To me, that is the worst reason yet to get a private prison. Do we just do something, because we don't want someone else to get it, even if it is not a good deal for the borough?

Now big money is saying "We will give you over 500 jobs." I agree if a prison is built there will be some construction jobs for a year or two. After that a private company would hire about 200 to 250 employees. The average wage paid by Cornell, as reported in the Bureau of Justice Assistance report in 1997, was $15,537 annually -- not even $7.50 per hour. Is this the benefit the Big Guns expect us to vote for?

I give my constituents more credit for their intelligence. Thanks and don't forget to vote on Oct. 2.

Grace Merkes

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member


Kenai voters must decide what makes city great place to live

Kenai is a city self-aware of its role as the "end of the road" for many Alaskans. It has provided opportunity, recreation and peaceful living to most residents new and old. Our experience with the ebb and flood of new families hasn't changed. Kenai's transient population has always disallowed any measurable cohesion in our community. Lack of communication and consensus are at the heart of our susceptibility.

The village with a past is experiencing the effects of a population boom without the added population. Just as the state of Alaska has added layers of bureaucracy and given up so many sovereign rights in recent years, Kenai is enduring another wave of new and very mixed ideologies. At first sight, Kenai appears to be "ripe for the picking." Just as we always have.

With a few exceptions, Kenai has been a city whose leaders and officials were hard to distinguish from your average Alaskan. Being fair, logical, approachable and simply having the time to do the job have been our basic qualifications for any position paid or not. There have always been some who would like to further politicize Kenai, to polarize and stratify while consolidating the "power" in Kenai. Will the "aughts" be the decade that Kenai was caught sleeping?

Kenai won't ever experience a mass exodus or just dry up some day. There are many possibilities here. What will continue to happen is that Kenai's collective culture, our values and identifiers will be slowly replaced by those of opportunists who "love" Kenai for "what it can be" and not for what it has been and should be. Many refer to a "cloud of hate" hanging over Kenai. It's not hate. It's simple greed.

If Kenai's population increases, so, too, should the size of city hall's budget. If we continue to grow steadily and methodically, as we usually do, existing budget surpluses should be spent on beautifying and repairing existing infrastructure. We should ensure that our tax base can support what we have before continuing in an "arms race" with other Kenai Peninsula cities for most paved miles, stop lights or police officers.

The question before us is "Whose measure of what makes a city great do we rely on?" Do we want to be a city with charm and a warm atmosphere, or one with low land values, crumbling curbs and broken street lights?

Think carefully about who you support in coming elections.

Dustin Aaronson


Lincoln's words serve nation well in this time of tragedy

"The world will note nor long remember what we say here, but they can never forget what they did here." This quote by Abraham Lincoln during the darkest hours of the Civil War expresses my thoughts and feelings during this time of national mourning, remembrance and prayer.

We must continue to be that shining beacon of freedom and justice to our own citizens and to the world. We must focus on our better nature not our bitter nature. We must support our president, our military and those public servants protecting our citizens and oppose all terrorists -- not allowing ourselves to focus on any particular ethnic or religious group.

God blesses America. We must be a people grateful for those blessings and a people that notes and long remembers what they did here.

Dave Carey

Mayor of Soldotna

Quilt of remembrance, freedom could help stitch America together

I would like to challenge all Alaska to participate in making a freedom quilt.

This would be a quilt like the AIDS quilt, only this one would be the longest in the world.

The sections would be 11-feet-by-11-feet because the tragedy happened on the 11th day.

Each section would include a different state flag, the USA flag and its own design. Also, each would say "Freedom."

On the back it will have those lost because of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.

This "Blanket Quilt of Remembrance and Freedom" will go around every state -- it will be that long. When it is sewn together it will represent freedom and will travel for display in every state.

This can help us all as a nation heal. This can also help us remember all those lost.

We must forgive, but we also must never forget all those lost. They were killed by cowards. They were killed by the man with no face.

I believe that for 11 years all the squares will be made into stamps -- all for freedom, all to remember, all flags shown, all names not forgotten.

America is the melting pot for freedom. We need to honor that in every home. All people participate.

The Blanket Quilt of Remembrance and Freedom will go through the miles, it will go like all Americans and heal and remember. It will be free.

I heard on the news that schoolchildren were having a hard time with images of people jumping out of the towers -- maybe with every stitch the images will fade.

Katrina Winn


All letters to the editor, including those sent by e-mail, should include the writer's name, phone number and address. Letters can be faxed to 283-3299 or e-mailed to clarion@alaska.net.

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