Letters to the Editor

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

Kansas letter writer does not portray accurate information

I did not realize that local politics had become a national issue. The decision whether the borough should build a prison to be operated by a private firm has apparently attracted the attention of people living in Kansas.

Mr. Smith attacked me and my father, Don Gilman, personally for our support of the proposed prison. I support the project because I think it makes good sense for the community. During his tenure in local government, my father actively sought responsible economic development for the Kenai Peninsula. I supported my father's actions then and have tried to follow in his footsteps.

I became active in this project because I saw the benefits to our community. I have seen the ups and downs of the local economy. I see this project as a way of stabilizing our economic base. It has been implied that I stand to receive "perhaps hundreds of thousands in fees for my share of the port." In addition to personally contributing $8,000 to the "Yes" campaign, I have donated thousands of dollars in professional services. If anything, I have lost money by working on this project.

I have stated that Cornell has far less escapes than public or private prisons. This statement is based on statistics compiled by the Criminal Justice Institutes, published in "The Corrections Yearbook." Cornell operates prisons in a safe and responsible manner. For years I lived through the woods from the existing prison at Wildwood. I was not concerned for the safety of my children. Although I now live further away from the prison, I wouldn't dream of supporting a project that I thought put my community at risk.

Throughout this campaign, Cornell claimed that they did not sue the city of Delta Junction. The lawsuit against Delta Junction was brought by Allvest, Inc. and Delta Corrections Group, LLC (DCG). Cornell held a minority position in Delta Corrections Group, LLC, specifically .5 percent. The attorney for DCG has confirmed that Cornell was not a party to the lawsuit, nor was it consulted during the lawsuit. The settlement agreement reached between Delta Junction and DCG confirmed that Cornell had no claims against the city and were not to receive any money under the settlement agreement. DCG further agreed to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the city should Cornell bring any claims in the future. Cornell has a policy that they do not sue local government in the community in which they operate. Cornell signed an agreement with the borough that they would not sue the borough. Cornell signed this agreement months ago.

Mr. Smith claims that contributions from "CCFRED hucksters" poured into Rep. Mulder's coffers. First, Concerned Citizens for Responsible Economic Development (CCFRED) was not established until after the Legislature had passed the authorizing legislation. Second, CCFRED is prevented from contributing to political campaigns by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

I plan on voting "Yes" on Proposition 1 on Tuesday, and I encourage everyone to allow the borough to continue working on this project by voting "Yes" on Proposition 1 on Tuesday.

Blaine D. Gilman


Anti-prison arguments hogwash; project's impacts will be positive

The proposed private prison has stirred more interest in local politics than I have seen in recent years. The groups opposed to the prison have resorted to negative ads and scare tactics to convince the citizens of this borough that this project is a bad idea. Their advertisements imply that our children will no longer be safe, that tourism will decrease, our taxes will go up and our property values go down, our infrastructure will crumble around our ears because it is taxed beyond capacity.

All this because of prison built adjacent to the state correctional facility already located at Wildwood. If a prison has such a negative impact on our community, why has Wildwood been operating for the past 15 years?

I haven't heard any talk of getting the State to shut the facility down. But think how many more tourists we would have, and how much safer our children would be, how much lower our taxes and higher our property values. These arguments are hogwash.

As far as I can see, the only impacts the proposed prison will have on the local community will be positive -- increased revenue into the community, stable jobs and greater diversification. I encourage everyone to vote in favor of Proposition 1 on Tuesday.

Janey Ring


More examination needed on all aspects of prison plan

I am responding to Mr. Carpenter's article in the Sept. 26 opinion section. Apparently Mr. Carpenter believes that state workers are overpaid and lazy and don't deserve union representation. Tell that to the families of the fine state troopers who put their lives on the line every day protecting the likes of him.

Just for Mr. Carpenter's information, the state troopers and the Department of Corrections officers belong to the same union (PSEA). I, for one, would not want to be in his shoes if he happens to get pulled over by one of those overpaid, lazy "public servants."

It is my opinion that the previously mentioned union workers are underpaid and overworked. These people have to deal with, on a daily basis, those individuals that are, how should I put this, not the cream of the crop. Personally you could not pay me enough to do either of these jobs.

As for the heading of Mr. Carpenter's letter, "State workers fear private prisons will do better job," is that just his opinion or has he actually talked to a state worker who has expressed his or her fears to him?

Since this prison issue has arisen, I have been privy to numerous pro and con conversations about the idea of a 1,000-bed prison in our community. One of the pro arguments that always seems to come up is that it will be beneficial to the indigenous people of the Kenai Peninsula. My argument is: How can this be? Are we talking about Native hire or local hire? Some would have you believe that treatment of Native prisoners will be different than the rest of the prison population. Programs such as drug rehabilitation have to be offered to all inmates and can't be preferential whether you are white, black, Native, Hispanic or even Irish. Somewhere along the line it seems to have turned into a Native issue, when if fact it is a Kenai Peninsula issue.

People of Kenai, don't get me wrong. I am all for our community prospering but I am more for our community's safety. We need more time to look at the feasibility and benefits of a project of this magnitude (that is, if a feasibility study was even conducted).

I urge you to vote "No" on Proposition 1. Let's slow down and examine all of the aspects of this proposal to see who will actually be the beneficiaries of this prison project.

Tom O'Connell


Prison opponents' scare tactics easy to see through; vote 'Yes'

I have lived near the Wildwood prison for over 15 years. I have three children between elementary and high school and I support the development of the new prison project.

I think the project offers the community many benefits, especially increased jobs and economic diversity.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of a prison in our community. We have lived with a prison in our community for over 15 years. I am not afraid to let my children play in our yard or wander through the neighborhood. I am more concerned about my children getting hurt while at school or while driving than by an escaping inmate.

The opponents of the prison are trying to scare us into voting "No" on Proposition 1. I can see through their fear tactics, and I am sure you can as well. I hope you join me in voting "Yes" on Proposition 1.

Kathy Moore


State employee unions should not be trying to influence prison vote

Last week it was reported that the big money opposing the proposed prison is coming from the four state employee unions: Alaska State Employees Association, Alaska Public Employees Association, Public Safety Employees Association and Public Employees Local 71 AFL CIO.

They have dumped tens of thousands of dollars into radio, TV and newspaper ads trying to frighten Kenai Peninsula voters into voting "No" on Proposition 1.

The state Legislature has agreed to pay for the construction and operation of a publicly owned and privately operated prison on the Kenai Peninsula. Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a majority of local business leaders want the nod from voters to explore whether the project is feasible and can be developed as a community asset, rather than liability.

I resent the state employee unions trying to influence my vote on such an important issue. They should keep their turf war with the private sector in Juneau, where it belongs.

Patti Allen


Prison proposal being pushed through without feasibility study

I attended the recent meeting about the private prison issue at the Nikiski Senior Center. The announcement in the Clarion stated that representatives from both sides of the issue would be present to answer questions from the community.

When I arrived at the meeting, I found that no one opposing the private prison had been invited to sit on the panel. James Price, chairman of Peninsula Citizens Against Private Prisons, said he was informed of the meeting the day before not by the organizers, but by a concerned local citizen.

Mr. Price and one other person opposing the private prison sat on the panel, next to six persons who have been working full time on the pro-prison lobbying effort.

I have a personal interest in this issue. I worked in a prison for two years as a drug and alcohol counselor, in the early 1990s. About 95 percent of the inmates we served told me they were not interested in treatment, but in getting out of prison. They were court-ordered to attend treatment.

Prison advocates at the Nikiski meeting made glowing speeches about how they can "fix the nation's drug and alcohol problem" starting here in Alaska. Their prison will get inmates on the straight path, they said. A member of our state Senate said, "God sent me here tonight, to bring this prison to you." I felt like getting up and saying, "Well, God sent me here to say, please go away."

What I actually did say was I know inmates are more interested in rehabilitation if they are housed in their home communities. The state Department of Corrections has plans in the works to expand the existing regional facilities. This would put Alaska's inmates where they can get the most support, rather than housing them like cattle in a Wal-Mart styled building.

At the Nikiski meeting, prison proponents were defensive toward persons who made opposing statements. James Price and I were openly criticized in ways inappropriate for such a meeting.

The staunch attitude of these prison profiteers was explained to me in a letter from Pat Smutz, communications officer for Public Employees Local 71. He said the private prison "enabling process flew rapidly through the state Legislature, guided by a herd of high-powered, highly paid lobbyists and businessmen. The money spent on this issue by the supporting side is staggering. This is truly 'David vs. Goliath.' The only way we can avert the building of this 1,000-bed super-prison is to stop it in the election on October 2nd."

The private prison project received $100,000 from our borough, and is being pushed through with no feasibility study and lopsided "discussions" with local residents.

I strongly encourage borough residents to vote "No" on Proposition 1.

Ann Marina


'Yes' vote allows borough to begin feasibility study, contract negotiations

The proposed prison project represents one of the largest construction projects we have seen on the Kenai Peninsula in years. A "Yes" vote on Tuesday does not definitively determine that the proposed prison will be constructed. It simply allows the assembly and the borough to continue with the feasibility study and to begin contract negotiations with the state of Alaska and with Cornell Corrections.

If the feasibility study comes back with significant negative impacts on the local community, we will have to reexamine whether the project is still in the best interests of the community. If the borough is unable to negotiate satisfactory contracts with the state of Alaska or Cornell the project will not be completed. However, without an affirmative vote on Tuesday the borough is prevented from further consideration of this significant capital project.

If you are undecided on whether you want the prison, vote "Yes" and give the borough the opportunity to complete the feasibility study.

I encourage everyone to vote in favor of Proposition 1 on Tuesday because it represents a rare opportunity to provide our local economy with stable economic diversification.

Tim Navarre, president

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly


Prison project presents opportunity for stable jobs, economic growth

Since when did economic development and community growth become bad words? I grew up in Soldotna and remember when the lot where Safeway now sits was wooded. The community has changed significantly since then and for the better, in my opinion.

We currently have the opportunity to shape the nature of future growth in our community. The private prison is an opportunity to create 200-plus stable jobs that are not connected to the oil and fishing industries. Try as I may, I cannot see the negative impact of this. It will likely mean an increase in residents in the local area. This, in turn, will fuel the need for new business and will create new customers for existing businesses. It will likely increase the enrollment in our schools, which will then translate to increased funding from the state. Education funding is currently based on the number of students enrolled in a district.

Constructing a public facility is not an option. The decision to build a private prison was made by the Legislature several years ago. The only decision before us is whether we will take the money that the state is trying to distribute. The numbers associated with this project make it hard to turn away from, especially with limited, if any, negative impacts from the project. I plan to vote "Yes" on Proposition 1 and encourage each citizen of the borough to do the same.

Jason L. Bergevin


Tainted public process has not garnered support for prison

Over the last few months, I have read about the prison issue, attended the "work session" held by the city of Kenai and the subsequent city council meeting, discussed this issue with members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, state legislators, Kenai City Council members, members of the public employees union, Wildwood prison guards and administration, and a board member of Kenai Natives Association. All have their reasons as to why we should or should not pass Proposition 1.

I testified at the Kenai City Council meeting that, although I support the idea of a prison in Kenai for economic development, I opposed Proposition 1 because I feel prisons are a public safety issue and a state responsibility that should not be privatized.

I might have changed my mind except I realized that this whole process has been tainted by inexcusable public process by the assembly. We have been forced into this vote because the assembly didn't see fit to study this issue independently and keep the private prison proponents at arm's length.

On this basis alone, Proposition 1 should fail. Any study performed by the borough at this time, no matter how independent, may be perceived as tainted as long as the borough maintains its relationship with Cornell and its associates.

Some members of the assembly have been quick to point out that this vote was "forced" on them. While it is easy to blame the opposition, perhaps the opposition would not be so strong if the assembly had done its homework initially to ensure an independent assessment of a prison project.

I firmly believe that voting against Proposition 1 will not kill the project. If the assembly still wants to address the issue then it should fund the feasibility study without the fetters of private interference. The state will still be interested and, after careful study, you might get my vote.

James V. Zirul


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